Senior culture writer, BuzzFeed
Interview by Leah Hansen (RSJ'16).
Scaachi Koul is a senior culture writer at BuzzFeed and the author of "One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter.", external link
Did anything about the industry surprise you after you got out of j-school, or was it pretty much what you were expecting it to be?
The industry is bad. And I kind of knew it was bad. I didn’t know it was this bad. But it’s bad in a lot of directions. Where it can feel very difficult particularly as a female, and on top of it, as a non-White female, (is) to try to traverse in this industry. It’s not to say that other industries aren’t also bad, but this one in particular I think has some really bad qualities. I don’t think there’s anything that surprised me, but I think it’s hard and when you’re in school, I think a lot of people tell you not to do it and it’s irritating and you think, “that can’t be true.” And then you graduate. I wouldn’t say that you shouldn’t do it, but you really need to think about it.
Can you explain what you mean by “bad” and some of the difficulties you’ve faced?
There’s a big boys club in journalism, I don’t think that’s a surprise to anybody. I’ve had some really unfortunate and interesting run-ins with it and I think that was maybe a bit of a surprise. I didn’t realize how it manifested itself. And I graduated when I was 21, so that’s pretty young. I didn’t really know how that stuff affects you on a day-to-day basis, so that’s kind of been an interesting education. And I think the older I get, the more surprised I am by how many women sort of expect the mentorship from me. Just because I still kind of think I’m a doofus and no one should ask me for anything, I get kind of confused when someone asks me for something. But then I kind of remember (being) 19 and looking at journalists who were 26 and sort of wanting them to help me. So I’m also kind of surprised at the responsibility that comes with getting anywhere. I don’t mean to say that I’m not happy to offer advice, but that everything I say should be taken with a grain of salt because I’m a doofus.
What advice would you offer young journalists now?
I think you should find things that you think are really interesting and that you really want to be involved in and I think you should write about them. Because I think going into types of journalism that you are not super-invested in will kill you. So, it’s not a lucrative job. It doesn’t come with a lot of glamour. You get a lot of criticism. It’s really hard — at the very least, you should be doing something that you really like doing and that you feel validated by. Apart from that, everybody’s path into it is going to be very different.
You moved from Hazlitt to BuzzFeed — how did you come across your position at BuzzFeed?
They had just launched and Craig Silverman, the editor-in-chief, took a meeting with me and asked if I’d be interested in working there and I said yes. They didn’t have a job that made any sense for me, so I kind of waited until they could find a place that made sense for me. I’m not super-clever, so the people here who do Buzz content, I’m in awe of them because I’m not that kind of funny. And they can put stuff together so fast that’s so universal and so clever and it’s really enjoyable to read and I can’t do that. And I’m also a terrible news reporter, so that didn’t make sense for me within the institution. So it took us a little while and they were sort of able to figure something out that made sense for both of us. I’ve only been here about a month so I still feel like a bit of a Bambi.
What would you say that j-school gave you in terms of skills, or preparing for the future?
I think the best thing journalism school probably did was expose me to certain people who have been very gracious in helping me. I’ve never gotten anything in this industry without knowing somebody who has tried to help me out and I readily acknowledge that, so I think that’s probably the best thing I got from that.
When you first enrolled in journalism school, did your vision of where you wanted to be in four years change at all, or are you pretty much where you wanted to be?
I think I applied wanting to be a news reporter. I was 17 when I started journalism school and I think I must have been 16 when I applied and I think I wanted to be a newspaper reporter, like a hard news reporter, and I think I had very high aspirations about noble investigative pieces. I don’t think I anticipated that I would one day be writing butt jokes for the internet and find that very fulfilling. So, yeah. I guess things change. I don’t know, you kind of have to let that happen.
Can you pinpoint a certain time when your goals started to change?
I think I kind of realized that I wasn’t very good at being a news reporter. I write long-form, but that to me is more about telling a larger story and there’s so much context in it. So, I was never really good at finding interesting pieces of information and presenting them in a certain way. I feel like so much of my life is me being like, “I can’t do that, therefore I won’t.” I think it was more a function of that. I’m not really sure that there was a moment, I think I just kind of realized what I was good at and decided I would keep doing that.
You mentioned that your position at BuzzFeed is really fulfilling. Can you elaborate on that?
It’s fulfilling to work at an outlet that is incredibly diverse and that allows the people that they hire to do what they’re good at. A lot of places I don’t think do that — maybe they don’t have the freedom, maybe they don’t know how, but it’s great to work at a place where you can kind of go up to somebody and say, “I have an idea that I know doesn’t totally make sense, but trust me.” And they let you do that. There’s a lot of autonomy, which is comforting. And it’s also kind of nice to work at a place where they accept and understand the community that is the Internet. I think a lot of other places tend to try to fight against it, and are trying to appeal to it but they don’t really know how. I think BuzzFeed’s a really interesting example of a place that looks at the Internet like a small city, who kind of all know some inside jokes and know the same sort of things. and appealing to them like a good group of people and not like a terrifying swamp of snake people that they can’t understand.
I loved Ryerson. I loved the journalism program. My sweetest friends are all from that program, but I would say overwhelmingly that I’ve learned on the job. That’s the best way you’re going to learn anything.