A Day in the Life of Virginia Hughes

Virginia Hughes is the science editor at BuzzFeed News, where she manages five reporters focused on the darker side of science. Before that she was a freelancer reporting on genetics, neuroscience, and medicine. Her writing has appeared in Nature, Popular Science, The New York Times, and twice in the Best American Science and Nature Writing anthology. She grew up in Michigan and now lives with her husband, daughter, and energetic dog in Brooklyn, New York. Her Twitter handle is @virginiahughes.

 

BuzzFeed News

Virginia Hughes

What I’m working on:

This week, like most weeks, I’m editing/developing a mix of news stories and investigations. We have a newsroom-wide package on climate change rolling out this week, so I’m finishing the production of four stories for that. The bigger investigations, luckily, are all at different stages: two are early and sprawling, where I’m just giving feedback on weekly reporting memos; another is at first draft; another is in its second big revision; and one is in top edits with an editor on our Investigations team. I also have miscellaneous management meetings, and am too-slowly trying to write a couple of features myself.

Where I work:

I work at BuzzFeed’s headquarters in Manhattan. When I started back in 2015, we were much smaller and had more opportunities to pose with celebrities (see photos with Ludacris and Ted Cruz below). A few weeks ago the newsroom moved to a higher floor of our building, so my new spot has fantastic natural light. Still, I’m a big fan of a good desk lamp. (This one was a high school graduation gift from my aunt.) My best office hack is outfitting my chair with a drugstore heating pad. It’s so viscerally pleasant—definitely worth the teasing about my old-lady tendencies.

 

Courtesy of Virginia Hughes

 

Daily routine:

I get up around 7:00 a.m. for breakfast with my family. We try to listen to The Daily podcast together unless our two-year-old turns it off. My husband leaves at 8:00 a.m. for work, which hypothetically leaves an hour of mommy-toddler playtime before the nanny arrives. But more often than not, that hour is instead filled with a shower, emails, tweets, dressing, lunchbox-filling, and Daniel Tiger.

I use my ~35-minute subway ride to work to catch up on Twitter, and then try my best to avoid it the rest of the day (apart from tweeting our stories). My work schedule is dictated by two things: when news stories are filed and when management or pitch meetings are scheduled. In between, I try to carve out sustained time for larger projects, such as more complicated edits or reporting. I almost always leave by 6:15 p.m. so that I can have some story time with the kid before she goes to bed at 7:30 p.m. After that, dinner, followed by any news edits I didn’t finish during the day.

Courtesy of Virginia Hughes

Secret to success: Get ’em while they’re hot.

Most productive part of my day:

My brain is sharpest in the morning, so I try not to schedule meetings then if I can avoid it. Brain is foggiest in the early afternoon, perfect for meetings.

Most essential ritual or habit:

Second cup of coffee, picked up from a too-expensive place on my way into the office.

Favorite note-taking techniques/tools:

For reporting calls, I type almost all of my conversations into a Google Doc in real time. I’ve done this for more than a decade now, and one cool benefit is that I can easily search the archive for a source’s name or subject keyword to remind myself of past convos.

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At the end of each call, when it’s still fresh in my mind, I’ll go back to the top of the doc and bullet the two or three most salient/interesting/controversial/whatever points made by the source. I don’t always remember to do this, but when I do it pays off later on, when wading through many interviews that I no longer quite remember.

How I keep track of my to-do list:

When freelancing, I swore by Todoist. But after I became a manager, I switched to Trello (just for me—no group sharing). I have a list for each reporter that just keeps track of the various stories they’re working on, color-coded by stage (reporting, editing, production).

A few months ago my husband gave me a fancy pen (Baron Fig’s Squire Rollerball), and that spurred me to buy a semi-fancy notebook (the Black ‘n Red Business Journal). And now I take (probably too much?) pleasure using those to make my morning to-do list.

Essential software/apps/productivity tools:

Google Docs! For everything. And Google Calendar is pretty great, too. I use its appointment slots to block off afternoons for “office hours,” when my team can sign up to chat with me. I find it much more efficient than scheduling one-off meetings across the week.

Favorite time waster/procrastination habit:

Slack has swiftly become my most disruptive piece of work software. Unfortunately it’s also the most essential.

My reading habits:

In the morning, it’s usually news-via-Twitter. I have a wonderful book/wine club that only reads fiction. I have zero appetite for nonfiction anymore, outside of what I have to read for work.

Sleep schedule:

Again, old-lady tendencies: in bed by 10:00, and almost always asleep before 11:00.

Photos from an earlier era:

Jon Premosch

 

Jon Premosch

 

 

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