Delia Cai, Growth & Trends editor at BuzzFeed and Deez Links founder

Delia Cai is helping us navigate our crazy digital era

This article is available in French.

If you enjoy getting lost in the abysses of Twitter, watching TikTok videos, smiling to memes or even finding useful content. You immediately need to follow @delia_cai. Growth & Trends editor at BuzzFeed, Delia Cai shares her favorite articles, make funny memes even funnier, or obsess over turtlenecks. Her Twitter account gives us the opportunity to discover new websites, talented journalists, or powerful articles. Unintentionally, what she candidly shares becomes a source of inspiration for the lucky ones following her (it’s written in her bio).

BUT Delia Cai is also writing a daily-ish media newsletter called Deez Links. In it, she analyses what’s going on in the media, finds out the trends in the industry or interview actors of this media world.

In the gigantic universe of newsletters, Deez Links is particularly exciting. The mails received are never too long, we are always getting right to it, and there’s always something useful to learn in it. In Deez Interviews, Delia asks people she’s inspired by to get real about their life and work, and how they approach their job in today’s world.

With enthusiasm, Delia accepted to answer Éclectique’s questions, taking part in an international re-creation of her very own Deez Interviews.

Éclectique : How old are you? Where are you from? Where did you study?

Delia Cai : I’m 26! I grew up in a small town in central Illinois — very farms, football and cornfields type of a place. For college, I also stayed in the midwest and studied journalism at the University of Missouri.

Where do you live?

I moved to Brooklyn about four years ago!

Do you think it is mandatory for young journalists to live in big cities in hopes of starting a career in the media industry?

I don’t think it’s mandatory to move to New York if you’re interested in journalism. But if your goal is to get into the digital media scene or work at the big national outlets, being in New York makes it so much easier to build your network. You end up meeting tons of other people in the industry naturally — through friends, official meetups, happy hours, etc. — and having that circle of contacts, of course, is what ends up making a huge difference when you’re job hunting.

When did you start wanting to work in the media?

I’m not from a particularly news literate background; i.e., my family was not the kind to get the NYT Sunday edition or anything like that. But I have always loved magazines. My earliest memories involve getting Highlights for Kids and the American Girl mag in the mail and spending the whole weekend devouring them. When I got older, I sneaked peeks at my friends’ Seventeen issues and checked out old Vogues from the library. And like every millennial girl, I watched The Devil Wears Prada when it came out. And, of course, it felt life-changing.

By the time I graduated high school, I knew I wanted to be a magazine editor. There’s even a page in my senior year yearbook where I got interviewed about my dream job. I was like “I want to make a magazine that’s like Vogue meets Reader’s Digest”. Which is hilarious to me because those were literally the only two “grownup” magazines I knew about.

Can you tell me what your job Growth & Trends editor actually means, and what your job is made of? How do you constantly stay up to date with everything that’s happening in the media? I assume that what you might do on weekends or off-days can be work-related (reading articles, finding people you might want to interview for Deez Links). Do you get to find personal time to disconnect with the media world or social media or do you have the feeling to be tied up to our digital era?

The growth & trends team at BuzzFeed is essentially our version of an audience development team. My job is partially to monitor social media/the news to figure out what big cultural trends (like VSCO girls or Game of Thrones) we should be covering, and partially to dig into the data of all our previously published work to help writers/editors think about the best frames, topics, and even celebrities they should focus on when they’re writing posts. Basically, I’m like a mini feedback loop on the team — I identify trends (happening in the world and in our own coverage) to the rest of the team, and we use those as a guide for the types of content we make. And then I look at that content and see what we can learn for the next week or whatever.

On staying up to date on media things…I honestly just subscribe to like, 50 different newsletters and also spend too much time on Twitter. Most of my closest friends also work in media, so we chat a lot about what’s going on. And we regularly text each other links.

On personal time…… I usually try to fit most of my ~media world reading~ into the weekday. In addition to just being online all day, I’ll go through all my emails/newsletters during my commute and save a lot of stuff to Pocket. Then I’ll usually open them up from Pocket during lunch. I set aside one weeknight and an hour or two on Sundays to do some more reading or work on interviews. Otherwise, I try to use my weekends for reading print magazines or books, which I think is my closest approximation for being “unplugged.” 

For most people, working in the media, being certified on Twitter and having a large audience on social media might look like a career achievement. Can you tell me what is the biggest challenge/difficulty you had to face in your job?

Maintaining a sense of focus, I think, has been a particular challenge for both my current job and for the general arc of my professional/creative life. Coming up with ideas and an overarching vision for something — whether it’s a specific project or a new side hustle — is my strong suit, but following it up with the attention to details and timelines and politics and actual, you know, work, is always a little less intuitive to get excited about.

The idea of making enough money off a newsletter is thrilling, to be sure, but I like working at a big company and seeing my friends every day and like…having health insurance.

Delia Cai

Can you guide me through the process of creating Deez Links?

The big game-changer with Deez Links was honestly switching to Substack as a platform because they let you schedule newsletters ahead of time. So I’ll go through the day and keep up with Twitter, emails, news, etc. often enough that by the time I’m home, I’ll already have a link or two saved (again, Pocket is such a great tool!) that I know I want to write about, and I’ve already been kind of thinking about it in the back of my mind for a few hours. It usually takes less than half an hour at that point to write a few lines about it. I just try to think about how I’d describe the link or whatever in a text to my friends, and that makes the writing come naturally.

Was that a way for you to have more freedom in your creativity?

Deez Links is definitely a creative outlet for me. I started it when I was an intern writing a bunch of corporate memos. I was dying for a way to write and be funny and also push myself to write in that way every day, so Deez Links also worked as this sort of discipline for me. It’s helped me learn how to form opinions and weave in analysis and of course, use the interview series as a way to be snoopy about people whose careers I really admire!

What makes you want to interview the people you reach out to?

More on those Q&As: I started out just interviewing my friends and people I knew who had cool jobs. Now it’s gotten to the point where I feel confident enough (and have a large enough audience) to approach writers and editors who I don’t know at all. I have a “wish list” of people in the industry who I’ve always wanted to know more about, so I’ll always be trying to email a few “dream” interviewees, along with people I’ve met in person or via Twitter who I think are just very interesting. What I’ve learned is that most people in media are truly appreciative when you tell them that you admire their work. And they’re more than happy to talk about it, even to a total stranger.

Do you want to make it something bigger one day and eventually working on it full time?

As for the future of Deez Links, I don’t actually have any super entrepreneurial urge to turn it into something that could stand on its own. The idea of making enough money off a newsletter is thrilling, to be sure, but I like working at a big company and seeing my friends every day and like…having health insurance. But if there’s an outlet out there right now who wants to syndicate Deez Links like the way Fast Company did with Today in Tabs…call me!

Do you follow any foreign media?

Hmm. I read the BBC and The Guardian a bit and also guiltily enjoy The Daily Mail on Snapchat. Their Discover channel is like eating a bag of really good potato chips. Not a lot of nutrients…but wow it is delicious.

In Deez Links, Delia Cai interviews people she gets inspired by. Here, GQ’s Sophia Benoit. (Screenshot – Deez Links)

Do you follow any foreign media?

Hmm. I read the BBC and The Guardian a bit and also guiltily enjoy The Daily Mail on Snapchat. Their Discover channel is like eating a bag of really good potato chips. Not a lot of nutrients…but wow it is delicious.

A while ago (in 2018), BuzzFeed France has closed after five years of activity in France. The 14 French journalists considered the closing particularly brutal. In France, it felt like a symbol of how money-driven media are today, and what happens when they don’t make enough money. Did people talk about it at BuzzFeed in the US? Did you know about it, and where you eventually paying attention to what it looked like?

Yes! I was on the international team at BuzzFeed when the France office closed. I wasn’t aware of the decision before the news broke, but it was definitely a sad day. And I’m still in touch with two journalists who were working in the newsroom at the time.

If a career in the media industry hadn’t worked out, what job would you have wanted to do? / Do you ever consider doing a different job?

Man, I truly deeply do not know what I would do if I wasn’t working in some form of media/publishing. There’s a version of me in a parallel universe who would have gotten her MFA and was writing novels full time. But…that’s the most divergent path I can imagine. Which is…probably kind of sad. I guess I have no other interests!

If you can’t find the opportunity to do the things you love, figure out how to create that opportunity for yourself. That’s still the beautiful thing about the internet. You can make your own blog or newsletter or podcast or YouTube series yourself.

Delia Cai

What’s your favorite album right now?

I’m extremely late to the Lana Del Ray train. But I’ve been listening to Norman F**king Rockwell a lot, probably because it’s perfect for the gloomy transition to winter.

The last movie you watched?

The last movie I watched was Notting Hill! I had never seen it before. It shocked me to discover that Julia Roberts delivers that iconic line in flip flops??? So she says her monologue and then just… walks away from Hugh Grant. And you can hear her flip flops slapping against her heels? It kind of took away from the magic of the moment, to be quite honest.

Julia Roberts and her flip flops (Screenshot – Notting Hill, 1999)

The last book you read?

The last book I read was Alexander Chee’s How To Write An Autobiographical Novel because, uh, I’m kind of trying to do that. But there’s also an essay in there about growing a rose garden, and it contains some of the most beautiful imagery I’ve ever read.

Finally, what advice would you give to a teenager who’d tell you he/she wants to work in the media?

If you can emotionally (and honestly, financially) handle a good degree of unpredictability in your life, do it. Digital media is always changing. And it’s what makes it such an exciting place to be. But figure out what makes you stand out. Whether it’s the types of stories you want to cover, the unique skill set you have, or the perspective you bring, and work on setting yourself apart in that way.

If you can’t find the job or internship or whatever that gives you an opportunity to do (or write about) the things you love, figure out how to create that opportunity for yourself. That’s still the beautiful thing about the internet. You can make your own blog or newsletter or podcast or YouTube series or whatever yourself. You don’t have to wait for someone to hand that opportunity to you.

More Stories
You could probably learn from Malia Griggs