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BuzzFeed head copy chief offers encouragement along with criticism

megan

Megan Paolone, copy chief at BuzzFeed

By Hannah Trull
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

From editor-in-chief of her small-town high school newspaper to head copy editor at BuzzFeed, Megan Paolone has come a long way.

Without any formal grammar training, Paolone was able to teach herself the do’s and dont’s of editing with, surprisingly, the help of another language: Spanish.

“I went to a small liberal arts college called Genesio and double majored in history and Spanish. When I want to find justification for a grammar rule in English, I can tie it back to Spanish. The languages are more similar than you would think,” Paolone said.

While completing her undergraduate degree, Paolone did not hesitate to get involved in school activities. Along with various clubs, she worked her way up to managing editor of her college’s newspaper, the Lamron, by her senior year.

After attending graduate school at Syracuse for a year in 2013, she was officially ready for the real world. Conveniently, it was just as ready for her.

“I graduated from Syracuse on a Friday and started working at BuzzFeed that Monday,” she said.  “I was planning on taking the summer off, but after aimlessly looking for jobs I came across this one and it was too perfect to not apply; this was me. I was most interested in how BuzzFeed covered news in a creative way, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

Since 2013, BuzzFeed has gained exponential popularity, so Paolone’s job has changed drastically within the few years she has been there.

“At first when I started, I was the second copy editor. After just a few months of me being there, we realized that two people couldn’t do all the work,” she said. “Now there are seven of us at just the New York location. As for the global team, there are two editors in London, two in Los Angeles, and one in Australia, as well. It’s crazy how quickly we’ve expanded, but I like working with and managing a wide range of people.”

And as for a typical day of work, there isn’t one. The job varies greatly.

“I come in, get coffee, check my email, and check the Slack channel. This is where the work happens; where people send me the requests for copy edits.

“Then I go to a website called Copybot and view posts on the site that are trending and haven’t been edited yet. Then, as you could probably guess, I edit them. I go back and forth with different editors and mark up drafts, tweets, news apps, and even news videos.

“I’m the last eyes to see the work before it’s published, so there’s a lot of pressure there,” Paolone said. “I also work with design for speakers and pull quotes. Sometimes the other editors and I will hold outreach classes for the staff to teach them how to go about reporting sensitive issues like LGBT and race.

“Schedule-wise, a normal day is from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. I usually eat lunch at noon. The best part is that during the day I am definitely not glued to my desk.”

As much as Paolone loves her job, she acknowledges that parts of it are challenging.

“Learning how to work with writers that are very attached to their words is super tricky,” she said.  “My goal is never to offend anyone, but some writers’ pieces just don’t match our style and need a lot of work. I’ve had to learn to be delicate, and offer a solution or encouragement along with criticism. I always say, ‘I want to make you look the best you can look’ when explaining the changes to writers. Knowing when to not change things takes even more self control.” 

The best part about Paolone’s job, she said, is having the freedom to pick and choose what to edit.

“For the most part, I only edit what I find interesting,” she said. “Anything Harry Potter is all me.”

For journalism students, Paolone had this simple piece of advice:

“Read and write a lot. You will mirror the writers you like, and it will help you be a better writer and editor in the long run.”

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