Hello to our very first readers!
We are really excited to finally show you what we have been working on! There’s been a lot of nail-biting and we are nervous but eager to hear your feedback.
For our first post, we reached out to the amazing Rega Jha, editor of BuzzFeed India. We were bouncing off the walls when she responded to our interview request!
We picked her brain to understand how she had the courage to go from being a Staff Writer at BuzzFeed USA to setting up the Indian edition when she was just 22. We felt so empowered after talking to her and we hope you do, too.
Without further delay, here’s the interview for you, kept as unfiltered as possible!
We stalked you on LinkedIn and we saw that you have a long list of internships to your credit. The idea of internships doesn’t cross our minds at all as Indian teenagers. How did it cross yours?
I did a lot of internships that were unpaid or had a small stipend. I want to acknowledge that it is a privileged choice to make. A lot of my friends couldn’t do internships in their industries because they needed to be doing jobs where they got money.
I was studying writing and I was in college during the financial crisis in the US. I was seeing people around me graduating from really great colleges and not having jobs, because hiring was very frozen at that time, across industries. I was extremely paranoid that I would be one of those people who graduate and doesn’t have a job. So I decided that I want to make myself extremely employable and the only way I knew how to do that back then was to stack my resume with internship after internship.
It’s interesting that the internships you have done are in different kinds of publications. What was the logic behind that?
I wanted to be in the media and write for a living but I didn’t have clarity on which kind of publication and what kind of work I would enjoy the most. I used internships as a process of trial and error, to experiment and see what I enjoyed the most. I interned at some magazines, some newspapers, and some lifestyle magazines.
That process made me realise that I love working with the internet and digital media space so I am really glad I did those internships. I know that a lot of people graduate from college and then start thinking about what kind of work they like, using their actual full-time career for the process of experimentation. Of course, that is totally fine. But internships are a hack way to do it before you actually start working full time.
We wish we’d known this hack earlier!
How did you have the courage to say ‘yes’ to head BuzzFeed India when you were only 22?
I had the courage to say yes because I was too young to even know that I was too young to do the job if that makes any sense! The credit goes more to BuzzFeed than me. They were the ones who made the plucky and risky decision. I just said yes.
I was nervous so I spoke to the editor-in-chief and asked if he thought I could really do this as a 22-year-old. His response was ‘If not at 22, then when? This is the time to take on challenging roles’.
It hasn’t been easy but I have actively felt myself learn and grow every single day. I would tell people to put themselves in a situation where they think they don’t know enough or they are not good enough to handle that job. That’s the only way you will, sort of, rise to the challenge.
What were the toughest roadblocks you had to overcome in the initial years of BuzzFeed India?
Every single thing I was doing, I was doing it for the first time. When I was hiring, I was hiring for the first time. When I was firing, I was firing for the first time. It gets exhausting because once in a while you want a task that you can do in your sleep. But for the first few years at this job, I did not have any of those moments.
I made it harder for myself because I had this mindset that asking for help was admitting weakness. So I didn’t often turn to people and say ‘Listen, I have no idea how to do this. Can you please help me?’ because I was trying to prove myself to the company and to the world. Now, I realise that actually, the best and most experienced people were seeking help. So now I do that all the time and it takes a lot of confidence.
It really is similar to the role of an entrepreneur!
Let’s go back a step now. You have done your BA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. How helpful was the course in your job?
For a long time, I thought that my college degree was totally useless. I thought that I could have learned a lot more in college than just studying writing.
But actually, the further and further I go into digital media and internet storytelling, the more I realise that the fundamentals of storytelling which I learned from my BA in creative writing- how to lay out characters, how to get resonance from your readers- I have been able to apply into web content. So now, in retrospect, I am very glad I did this.
Now as an adult, I am trying to keep up with my education in writing by pushing myself to do it every day and exposing myself to new writers. Whatever you study, there is a way to keep up your education even when you are done with your degree and that is something everyone should be doing.
We love that you are still learning and growing!
Now, this question is one that we’ve been wanting to ask since we first started following you. You are vocal about your opinions online which has brought some really vicious attacks your way. Does it affect you personally? How do you deal with them?
The trolls and attacks online used to affect me a lot more in the early days. First few times you are yelled at or you are attacked, your immediate response is to shut down. You don’t listen to what they are saying, you are just defensive and angry.
There is a thin line between trolling and calling out, I don’t listen to trolls anymore because those are the people who just want to ruin my day. But I do listen very carefully now to people calling me out because there is a lot to be learned. Usually, there are valid reasons why people are upset with you, especially as editor of BuzzFeed India. It is my job to listen to people who have criticism.
Now I don’t get defensive. I sort of dig in and see what is there for me to learn from this attack.
Best investment: A notebook and a pen. Every notebook I buy is a huge investment in my mental health, in my skills, and in my career. It is low cost with high impact.
Daily ritual: I write every single day in a notebook before I go to bed. It could for 30 seconds or two hours. It helps to ground me and calm me down.
If not writing, what?: Something in the performative space. Storytelling on television or stage.
A cure for your social media anxieties: It can be scary to put things out because you are scared about whether you are wrong, or if it will come off as lame or uncool. Just telling yourself that you are a work-in-progress can take that pressure off. This is something I have made clear on all my social media accounts. This is what I am thinking today but if you disagree with me, tell me why, and I am happy to update myself.
Rega will be featuring in an upcoming Netflix series which follows BuzzFeed writers as they go about their work. This behind-the-scenes feature is expected to be out later this year and we can’t wait to binge on it!