Q&A with Delia Cai, Growth and Trends Editor, BuzzFeed
This week, we caught up with one of our own — Delia Cai, an Idea veteran. Once a fellow at Atlantic Media, she is now a growth and trends editor at BuzzFeed and the author of the daily media newsletter, Deez Links, which boasts more than 3,000 subscribers. Read to learn more about how Delia started Deez Links and her newsletter predictions. Subscribe to our newsletter on the business of media for more interviews and weekly news and analysis.
Can you tell me about your role at BuzzFeed?
I’m on the audience development team, which is a fairly new team that sits under BuzzFeed’s growth and trends team for the website. I work with editors, writers, and strategists (basically anyone who touches the site) to help them figure out the best ways they can use BuzzFeed’s data to inform their coverage and build a game plan.
For instance, I help identify topics that can be covered in a unique, BuzzFeed kind of way. I also spend a lot of time thinking about the coverage we do for tentpole events such as the Super Bowl and the Grammy Awards. I look at what’s worked in the past and what we should be focusing on this year. One of our insights from this year, for example, was that the Super Bowl’s halftime show was more important to our audiences than the actual game itself.
Ultimately, what we’re really trying to do is get our coverage of recurring events down to a science. Our writers and editors have perfected the art of their work, and my team wants to complement that by coming in with the science part. This way, everything we produce at BuzzFeed is a combination of an art and a science.
How did you start Deez Links?
This is kind of meta because I started the newsletter when I was a fellow at Atlantic Media working on The Idea between 2015 and 2016. At the time, I was fresh out of journalism school and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I knew that I didn’t want to be a reporter, but I really liked reading and learning about the media industry.
Because I was writing The Idea every other week, I knew that I wanted to experiment with the newsletter format myself. When I first started Deez Links, it was a way for me to try weird stuff and figure out how to have a “take” on media news. It was also a way to challenge myself to have a daily practice of writing.
I also used the newsletter to update the other fellows in my cohort on the media news I was reading about.
Aside from The Idea, what other newsletters did you draw inspiration from?
There were two newsletters that were instrumental in shaping Deez Links. The first was from Caitlin Dewey called “Links I Would Gchat You If We Were Friends.” It was a daily newsletter and I remember loving that whole idea of receiving the best links each day.
There was also this social media platform called This. that was started by Andrew Golis, who at the time was an entrepreneur-in-residence at The Atlantic. The platform was basically a curated Twitter; users could only share one link. At the end of every day, the top five links that get the most shares are then sent out to all users. It was short-lived, but I really loved the idea of being asked to choose only one link to share because it meant that you had to give it some thought. It was honestly the best way to read the best things on the Internet.
How has the newsletter evolved over the years?
I started the newsletter for my friends and as a passion project, so its scope was a bit scattered at the beginning. At the time, the newsletter was very much just links and vaguely defined media industry terms. It was a bit broad and I would incorporate things that I classified as “lower-case m” media like advertisements and animation.
Over the years, I’ve tried to be a lot more intentional in curating topics. I see my audience as people who don’t have the time to sift through all the media news on the internet, and so Deez Links does it for them every day by telling them about the most interesting story.
I also want to add that when I first started the fellowship, my job was to keep a tab on the media industry. At the time, that was super intimidating to me because I was fresh out of journalism school and I didn’t really know much about the business of media. But my manager, David Burt, said something that has always stayed with me: After you read media news every single day, you start to realize that all media stories can go one of six ways. And, as I figured out that categorization, that helped me with forming clear and consistent commentary on topics I thought were once a bit unmanageable and complex.
What advice would you give to those looking to get a passion project off the ground?
It has to be something that’s inherently fun for you. Whether you have 0, 5, or 1000 subscribers, this needs to be something that you would enjoy doing regardless of that number. I think it’s also important to identify what you want to get out of this and then go on to determine the format and frequency that works best.
Looking ahead to the future of newsletters, how do you think the space will evolve?
There’s this recurring joke on Twitter I’ve seen where someone will be like “What if we put all our newsletter content on a website?” I’m actually curious to see if maybe we’ll start to see newsletter culture giving birth to new websites and small publications that are subscriber-funded. It’s become normal to pay for cool, niche content. But I also think that there’s a ceiling to the individual subscriber model because people aren’t going to be willing to pay for every single newsletter they’re subscribed to.
What is the most interesting thing that you’ve seen from a media outlet other than your own?
I really love the zany interactives that the NYT Styles Section has been doing lately under Choire Sicha’s charge. Their general coverage of digital culture has been the best in the biz lately, but I also love these little easter egg-full stories that they did for stuff like the royal wedding and the Christian Louboutin guided tour. It’s such a clever way of injecting a little of the “fun internet” that we all have nostalgia for into these otherwise staid stories, and I think figuring out ways like this to delight your readers and give them something worth passing around to their friends is a smart way to turn an audience into your ride-or-dies for life.
What is your first listen in the morning?
What was the last book you read?
The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh.
What job would you be doing if you weren’t in your current role?
If I wasn’t in media, I would probably be going down the MFA/write a novel route.
This Q&A was originally published in the March 16th edition of The Idea, and has been edited for length and clarity. For more Q&As with media movers and shakers, subscribe to The Idea, Atlantic Media’s weekly newsletter covering the latest trends and innovations in media.