On the Record: Emmy Favilla
Welcome to the second installment of our DLC blog series, On The Record, where the tables turn and the journalists and editors we work with are on the other end of the interview. Find out how they started in the biz, what it’s like to be in their shoes, and how you can best work with them.
People love BuzzFeed. PR people love BuzzFeed, not only for posts like this one, but because outside of being a hugely popular site/app to read and share quizzes and articles with your friends and a growing breaking news organization, it’s also considered a major win when coverage for a client runs on the site. Everyone recognizes the massive audience and reach of BuzzFeed – so how can PR practitioners crack the code to secure a BuzzFeed article for their clients? Check out our Q&A with BuzzFeed Copy Chief Emmy Favilla to learn more!
Give us the basics — where you’re from, what you do, how you got started in journalism/copy editing.
I’m the copy chief at BuzzFeed, where I’ve been for three years now, and I manage an international copy department and copyedit posts on the site daily. I’m originally from New York — I grew up between Brooklyn and Queens — and went to NYU for journalism and creative writing. I always knew I wanted to work in publishing and the magazine industry; I wrote for the paper in high school and have loved writing stories since I was a wee child.
I guess you could say I kind of stumbled into copyediting. I’ve always been a big grammar nerd, and editing for usage and punctuation and that sort of stuff was something I naturally gravitated toward during my first internship, at an independent women’s lifestyle magazine. I would help the freelance copy editor proofread stories, and we realized I had a knack for copyediting. And then it just spiraled from there; at another internship, at Stuff magazine, the managing editor sort of became my mentor, and sat me down in a room one day with a copy test to see how I’d do. After validating my copyediting skills, she helped me land my first gig out of college, as associate copy editor at Seventeen magazine. I’ve been copyediting ever since! I do still love to write, and have been lucky enough to work as a copy editor at places where I can also write occasionally during downtime — including Seventeen, Teen Vogue, Natural Health, POZ, and BuzzFeed, among other publications.
What is it like working at BuzzFeed? Is it all kittens and GIFs all the time? 😉
GIFs do play a big role in our emails here, I won’t lie! But there are so many moving parts at BuzzFeed that the experience is so different for everyone who works here. We have an investigative team, doing hard-hitting journalism and seeing results from it; we have BFF, our distributed team, creating comics for Tumblr and video series like Whine About It; there’s our Pod Squad, creating successful podcasts; and then we have Life, Buzz, and News sections, all doing awesomely cool and varied posts and projects. I feel so lucky to work among such talented, intelligent, hilarious people who love what they do — and to get to read everything from world news stories to features exposing injustices to the best Drake lyrics to caption your Instagram pics with to the best last-minute Halloween costume ideas, all in one day. (Also, spotting celebs who come in is a fun perk. Last week, Bill Murray stopped by — it was surreal.)
What are your responsibilities as copy chief?
I copyedit posts (and occasionally text in videos) across the site, as well as field editors’ grammar and style questions daily. I manage a copy department of seven people across three cities (New York, Los Angeles, and London), and it’s our responsibility to ensure that the pieces we read are the best they can be — we edit for spelling, grammar, usage, syntax, etc. I also regularly update the BuzzFeed Style Guide and run the BuzzFeed Style Guide Twitter account (@styleguide) with my team. I was the first copy editor BuzzFeed ever hired, and my first major project was to create a style guide for the site, which we started circulating internally in early 2013 and posted live on the site in February 2014.
Give me a sense of a regular day in the office for you.
Every day is a bit different in terms of workload, and there is so much content posted each day that it’s simply not possible for us to read everything on the site, so we prioritize trending stories as well as longer stories (longform reported pieces, essays, and original projects with lots of text in them). So I usually start the day combing through our trending stories. Emails with drafts to read trickle in throughout the day, and the copy team will split them up depending on who’s online and free to read or who might be particularly interested in a subject.
In between this, I’m on Slack having conversations with my team about stuff like whether or not to hyphenate a phrase and “Is it pizza rat or Pizza Rat?” — and responding to email threads about polarizing views on candy corn or crowdsourced emails for various posts. Every so often, I’ll hold a copy class, where we review grammar issues and BuzzFeed style for new hires and anyone who wants a refresher. And then there are the occasional days where I’ll pop into a video for something fun or a celeb comes by and wants to take a group picture with the staff.
How often do you get pitches from PR people? And what stands out to you? (Subject lines, data, etc.?) What are your tips for PR people on how to work with you?
As copy chief, I definitely get fewer pitches than other editors here do (probably between 10–12 a month, on average), since my primary responsibility isn’t writing and creating posts, but the pitches that do stand out are the ones that clearly recognize my role as a copy editor or have some connection to the posts I’ve written in the past. Pitching to the copy department can be tricky. I think it’s important to make it clear that you’re familiar with the editor’s “beat” or the type of general work they do. Anything having to do with words or grammar, for instance, is something I’m definitely going to be interested in clicking and reading — or things I’ve written a lot about, like NYC life, tattoos, and Italian-American identity pieces. Google me!
Give us the final word on phone pitching: is it always annoying or sometimes appreciated?
I don’t have an office phone, and I rarely pick up an unfamiliar number on my cell phone, so I’ll go with always annoying. I think these days, electronic pitches are always the way to go. Editors can forward them to the appropriate person if they’re not the right fit for the pitch, and they can get to it on their own time.
What’s your favorite story you’ve ever written?
Probably this essay about the pet lobsters I had as a kid. It was really fun to write, and I’d like to do more pieces like this.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I’m pretty involved with animals and animal welfare; I live with a cat, a dog, and two rabbits, all rescues. ☺ I’ve been a volunteer at the ASPCA for the past three or so years, and I’m active in local efforts — I’ve fostered two cats and helped them find homes, and you might catch me on any given day wandering my neighborhood feeding the strays and making cat shelters. I was TNR (trap, neuter, return) certified earlier this year and hoping to get more active in that capacity soon. I also love cooking, traveling, and seeing live music when I can.
Favorite movie/book/tv show about journalism/pr?
I read The Imperfectionists this summer (at the recommendation of my editor-in-chief) and loved it.
Last song you listened to on Spotify/iTunes/etc.?
I am pretty much consistently listening to ‘90s R&B during my workday. Last on the playlist was Brandy’s “I Wanna Be Down” (the remix).
Chipotle or Panera?
100% Chipotle. Even if it’s just a bowl of sofritas and guac.
DLCer Erin Fisher goes On the Record: I came across one of Emmy’s posts and noticed she was the copy chief. We represent Dictionary.com, who was getting ready to announce some fun survey results on grammar pet peeves, and I thought it’d be something she’d naturally be interested in, so I reached out. We developed a great rapport, and she shared the information in true BuzzFeed style – a quiz! The client was thrilled and we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to work together again since. Emmy’s point bears reminding, whether pitching BuzzFeed or journalists at any other outlet – know who you’re pitching and why. Do your research so as not to waste their time or your time.