JENNA GUILLAUME: ‘Magazines may be shrinking, but media is growing.’

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Jenna Guillaume is Editor-at-Large for BuzzFeed Australia.  


You started out in the world of magazines – could you tell us a little about your career and how you came to be where you are today? 

My very first job was actually in digital – I worked for Yahoo! on the New Zealand New Idea and Girlfriend websites. From there I made the leap over to features writing and editing for Girlfriend magazine. While there, I did some social media work for Girlfriend and also maintained a personal blog, so I kept a toe in the digital water, but after five and a half years in print I was ready to dive back in. Luckily for me, BuzzFeed was opening an Australia office, so I applied, did a whole bunch of sample posts through the BuzzFeed Community, and scored the job of my dreams. Three and a half years on I’m still here.

Have you noticed many differences between writing/editing for print and writing/editing for online?

It is so different, especially moving from a monthly magazine to a 24-hour website. Everything in magazines is a slow burn – you’re writing at least three months ahead of each issue, working towards one monthly deadline. Your work goes through multiple editors and designers before it gets back to you. When you send it out into the world, you hope people like it, and you might get some feedback, but you don’t know how it really went until you get circulation figures months later – and even that doesn’t really tell you what was right (or wrong) with a particular issue.

Online, you’re putting out content every single day, usually sourcing your own images and designing how the post looks yourself. There’s still an editing process but it’s much quicker, with fewer layers. And you get instant feedback – between data and social media, you can immediately tell whether people are engaging with what you’ve done. That feedback loop helps you to continuously iterate and improve your work.

Is the process for producing content for Buzzfeed similar to how it would be at other news websites – eg pitching an idea, submitting, editing? 

I haven’t worked at other news websites so I can’t speak to that, but at BuzzFeed we have a morning meeting where we pitch our ideas and from there we write them up and submit our drafts to peers and editors for feedback. We edit our own work based on that feedback, get it checked again, and when it’s ready, we hit publish.

What’s a typical day look like for you as Buzzfeed Australia’s Editor at Large? 

It changes all the time. If there’s a big cultural moment happening, I’ll be focused on helping to develop an editorial strategy that will feed into, or even create, a national conversation. This can range from national events like Australia Day, when I spend my time researching, strategising, and writing pieces of cultural criticism, to big pop culture moments like Game of Thrones, which I lead BuzzFeed’s global coverage on.

In between those larger projects, a typical day will involve a lot of time on the internet and social media. I’ll be writing timely things (like how hot Chris Hemsworth’s biceps look in his latest Instagram post); things I’m passionate about (like this Looking for Alibrandi piece); and things that I know our core audience love, or that may help to grow our audience (like a funny Aussie tumblr round-up).

Around all this, I spend a lot of time analysing data and chatting to local and international colleagues to collaborate and share knowledge.

You’re a fan of pop culture by nature and it’s also part of your job – is that living the dream or does it have its downsides?

It’s a bit of both! I love, love, love talking about pop culture and obsessing over celebrities and TV shows, so it’s a total dream to get paid to do what I normally do for fun.

On the other hand – what I normally do for fun is now my job! So it definitely blurs the lines between work and home life, making it hard to switch off. But the positives far outweigh the negatives; it’s just about finding the right balance.

How do you switch off from the online world? 

Well, I don’t do nearly enough of it (see above!). The best things for me are reading, writing, and playing with my dog. Basically doing things I love that take up all of my concentration for at least half an hour at a time.

What are the best and worst parts of your work?

The best parts are getting to write about things I love and that make me happy; making others happy or connecting with them through my work; being surrounded by creative and inspiring colleagues; and working for an awesome company where I have creative freedom and room to grow.

As I’ve already mentioned, it can be hard to switch off – and, being a woman on the internet, there is the occasional nasty troll in my mentions. But that’s what the block button is for.

Are there ways emerging writers can contribute to Buzzfeed? What should hopefuls be aware of before they try anything?

Yes, there are a couple of ways. First, if you don’t really have any experience and are looking to experiment and learn, you can sign up for our Community and try creating some BuzzFeed posts. Most of our staff (including me!) started in Community and it’s a good way to hone your skills.

If you have a couple of runs on the board and are interested in writing cultural criticism or personal essays, then I suggest spending a bit of time in BuzzFeedReader checking out our features and essays. Our colleagues in the US and UK have been commissioning longer pieces for a couple of years and have prepared this helpful guide to contributing.

Here in Australia we’re just beginning to commission in this space. But we typically ask for considered pitches or first drafts before commissioning, so don’t email until you’ve fleshed out your idea and have a good sense of the BuzzFeed tone and style (i.e read a lot of BuzzFeed features and essays). You can email our managing editor Nicola Harvey (nicola.harvey@buzzfeed.com) with pitches.

With the world of magazines shrinking every day, what do you see as the path for young writers these days?

The world of magazines may be shrinking, but the media on the whole is growing. There are more and more opportunities all the time, especially in digital media. It’s hard to map out a path because there is just so much variety, and the media landscape is moving so quickly that who knows what it’ll look like in five years’ time. The important thing is to follow your passion, build up your experience and be willing to continuously learn and adapt.

The important thing is to follow your passion, build up your experience and be willing to continuously learn and adapt.

Do you have any exciting projects coming up? What advice would you give to those who would love to follow in your footsteps? 

I am working on some really exciting projects, but this is an un-exciting answer because I can’t reveal the details right now. But I can give some advice: watch a lot of TV and spend too much time on Twitter.

Ok but seriously, and this is where I get a bit cheesy: no matter what people say, don’t get disheartened and don’t give up. People can be really negative when it comes to the media, but you’ve got to block it out. Be willing to learn, listen to feedback, continue to grow, but back yourself and your abilities. And most importantly have fun. If you’ve got to spend most of your time at work, you may as well love what you do, if you can possibly help it.

You can follow Jenna Guillaume on Twitter and Facebook.

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