Family

When Your Dad Is BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith

Featuring Hugo Smith, age 14, grade 9.

Hugo Smith.
Hugo Smith.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo courtesy of Hugo Smith.

In this series, kids (and not-exactly-kids-anymore) review how well their parents balance life and work. To nominate a potential subject ideally between the ages of 5 and 17, email humaninterest@slate.com.

Hugo Smith is 14 years old. He lives in Brooklyn with his parents, Ben Smith and Liena Zagare.

Laura Bennett: Can you tell me a little bit about your relationship with your parents?

Hugo Smith: I would say my mom’s usually around more. She’s usually home after school, because my little brother gets out of school and she has to pick him up from the bus. I would say I see more of her.

My dad works a lot. He really loves his job, you can tell.

How can you tell?

When he’s working, it doesn’t really seem like he’s working. He very clearly enjoys it. I think for him it doesn’t feel like work. Like, the fact that even when he doesn’t need to be working, sometimes he does. ’Cause he really cares about what he does. I really respect that.

How much time would you say he spends on his phone?

Well, a lot. He used to do this thing that would just drive me insane where, while I was talking to him, he would be doing work on his phone, and he’d just be like, “Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.” And eventually I’d be like, “OK, what do you think?” And he’d be like, “Uhhhhhhhh.”

So what we convinced him to do was, when he needs to do work stuff, but he wants to spend time with us, and we catch him working like that—he goes into another room, does the work he needs to do, and then he can come back and give us his full attention.

So how did you get him to do that? Did you have to stage an intervention?

No, he sort of came up with it a bit. But also I’ve found that when I’m playing tennis, even just ping-pong, it’s great because we’re both so focused on each other.

How would you describe your dad’s job?

He’s the head of BuzzFeed News. So that entails deciding which stories are important, prioritizing things, and he’s also always editing people’s pieces and working directly with people. He basically does it all. He does everything, from what I can tell.

What does a typical day look like for him?

He wakes up around 6, 6:15, I think. Then he makes my sister breakfast. Then I wake up around 6:30, then he makes me breakfast. Then he makes my little brother breakfast.

Wow. What does he make for breakfast?

Well you know, eggs and sausage, pancakes. Whatever I ask for. It’s great.

Is he on his phone a lot during the breakfast making?

No, he focuses on us, we talk to him. It’s nice.

Is your mom in journalism too?

Yes, she’s publisher of a local news site. She’s always working as well. But she works from home more frequently.

So then I go off to school, and I think my dad gets to work around 9 or 10. Unless he has to go to some breakfast meeting. He also plays tennis around 8 a.m. a couple times a week.

He works until around 4 or 5, then I think he goes and gets drinks or something for business. Then he’s usually home for dinner around 6:30 or 7, which is great.

Does your dad use Twitter a lot on his phone?

Oh yeah, occasionally at family events and stuff.

How do you know when he’s tweeting?

I check his Twitter account. He is always on Twitter.

So you’ll be at a family event, and you’ll look at Twitter just to see if your dad is tweeting?

Definitely. I’ll be like, “Dad, you retweeted something 30 seconds ago.”

But usually at those family events I’m retweeting things too.

Oh no, you’re getting hooked early.

Yeah, he converted me to Twitter when I was, like, 5. He said, Hugo, I’m gonna sign you up for Twitter, and he did. I’ve been a Twitter user since.

You were a 5-year-old looking at Twitter??

Yeah. I recently had to delete all of my baby tweets. Cause they were all like, “Hi dad.”

But now you like Twitter.

Yep, I use it to see what’s happening. It’s where all the news happens.

Can you reach your dad when he’s at work?

Sometimes he turns off his phone if he’s in a meeting. Or puts it in “Do Not Disturb” or airplane mode when he needs to charge his phone because it’s constantly dying.

I usually text him first. Then call him. If that doesn’t work I WhatsApp him. And if that doesn’t work I call him over Signal. He usually responds within 5 to 10 minutes.

Do you think your parents have interesting jobs?

Oh yeah definitely.

What is most interesting to you?

I really like writing. So writing-oriented things are more interesting to me. Sometimes I get to read stories before they are published and occasionally catch typos and things.

Deciding what news you’re gonna prioritize has such an effect on what people read and what people know. And that’s really important.

I think the fact that my dad has such a not-boring job is why I don’t mind him working so much.

Does he work on the weekends?

Yeah, news doesn’t stop on the weekends like stock-trading does.

I think that’s part of his job, he has to constantly be available. My mom works less, usually.

Would you say your parents have a healthy work-life balance?

I think my dad’s definitely gotten better about it. A couple years ago, he worked more, but he’s definitely figuring it out now, it’s good.

What do you think motivated him to figure it out?

Just a lot of “Dad, get off your phone. Daddy, we’re talking to you.”

What are your parents’ rules for you around screen time?

Basically they trust me to be responsible about it, and as a result I am.

Do you know what Slack is?

Slack, oh yes. It’s like a chatroom for working.

I’ve seen my dad using it around the office.

Have you visited the BuzzFeed offices?

I find myself there a lot. It’s close to my school. It’s really nice, spacious. They have free snacks. A frozen yogurt machine. All the necessities.

Can you remember a time when there was something in your school or your life that your parents had to miss because of work?

Actually, my dad is very good about that. My birthday was only a couple of weeks ago, and he was gonna have to be in London, but he rescheduled his trip so he could be with me on my birthday.

Do you have a sense of what you want to do for work one day?

Be a lawyer, maybe.

I find it really interesting. I like to argue with people.

Would you ever want to work in journalism like your parents?

I’d consider it. It seems kinda hard to do, especially when your parents did that. I would never want to feel like I was competing with them or had something to live up to.

Do your parents keep working at night, after you go to bed?

I go to bed around 10, so I don’t really know. Dad probably does more work, goes to bed around 11.

On weekends usually we all watch some family movie together. I’m six years older than my younger brother so the age gap makes it kind of hard to choose movies. We stick to the classics. We watched The Grinch a week ago, that was, like, the best movie ever made.

What part of your parents’ jobs do you think most stresses them out?

I think for both of them, the business side of journalism stresses them out. Making journalism pay for itself. Which is hard. Especially when you don’t have subscriptions. My dad’s mainly a journalist, but I think he’s good at the business side. It just stresses him out.

When you get older, what do you want to imitate about the way your parents balance work and life, and what would you want to do differently?

I really respect how much my dad works and his work ethic. I hope to have a job one day that I enjoy so much that I want to work so hard. Because when you enjoy what you do, it doesn’t feel like work. So I think his work-life balance is perfect.