Emmy Jo Favilla started reading at 3½ years old. “I asked my mom to confirm,” says BuzzFeed’s senior manager for brand voice and its style guru. Favilla grew up loving books, reading and writing. The day she got her first library card, she checked out the maximum 30 volumes. “Why wouldn’t anyone take out 30 books if they could?” she asks. As a child, Favilla would “hole up” in her room and read for hours. “I know this is cliché, but it’s what it was to me … being able to escape and be in another world.” Her teachers at public schools in Brooklyn and Queens nurtured that love of reading and instilled in her the confidence that has propelled her in the internet media world. Favilla didn’t realize copy editing was a viable career until she was an intern during college. Her first post-college job was copy editing at Seventeen magazine. “There’s something very satisfying about finding errors beyond just typos, and I love the idea that you’re helping this piece of writing reach its potential.” Favilla was BuzzFeed’s first copy editor in 2012, then became its global copy chief, supervising staff in New York, Los Angeles and the United Kingdom. She created its style guide — a precursor to her 2017 book, “A World Without ‘Whom’: The Essential Guide to Language in the BuzzFeed Age” — and eventually rose to her current role overseeing standards for editorial and branded content. Her approach to copy editing has changed, Favilla says, to accommodate the nuances of webspeak and to be more inclusive.
I grew up in Bushwick, Brooklyn, in the house where my mother was born. I lived there until I was 10 or 11 and went to PS 88 in Ridgewood, Queens, right over the Brooklyn border. In 5th grade, we moved to Ridgewood, a block from the school. I loved to read and had such a desire to understand words on a page. In kindergarten through 2nd grade, my teachers — Miss Graylin, Miss Kokasch and Mrs. Alpert — gave me books to read on top of the books assigned to the class because I breezed through them. They also sent me home with extra homework that I was so excited to do. They did it in a way that never made me feel different from the other kids or embarrassed for being at an advanced reading level. They recognized that my love of reading was a special thing, and they instilled confidence in me.
I went to IS 93 in Ridgewood and continued to feed my love of reading and writing. I was the salutatorian. Then in 1997, I went to Townsend Harris HS in Flushing.
Townsend Harris was the most demanding academic experience of my life. At a recent career day there, I told one student, “I guarantee you college will be a breeze compared to what you’ve gone through here.” It was a very competitive environment, but I felt accountable only to myself. The Townsend teachers really empowered the students and instilled a fantastic work ethic in us.
Townsend Harris focuses on humanities and the classics. Seniors took a humanities seminar where teachers facilitated the conversations, but the students were responsible for coming up with questions and discussing things in depth. Our teachers did a very good job of making us feel a sense of agency. It was also like a lot of my high school experiences: It pushed me outside my comfort zone.
We had to take Latin or Ancient Greek for two years, and I was terrified. But it really helps you to understand the etymology of words and it helped me on the SATs. I think it also fostered my interest in language.
Most important was Mr. Carbone, my freshman English teacher. I remember him telling us to try to spot typos in TV tickers. And every day he would give us a different grammar tip. He really made me think about grammar and realize a lot of people aren't aware of correct grammar and usage.
I wrote for The Classic, our school newspaper. I was also on the yearbook staff in junior and senior years. I loved organizing the layouts, putting together the various parts and proofreading pages. Senior year I suggested incorporating polls into the yearbook. Realizing what an overwhelming undertaking it would be, I regretted it immediately. But Miss Polansky, the yearbook adviser, said it was a great idea and let me do it.
All of our teachers gave us confidence and a sense of autonomy. They believed in our ideas and what we wanted to do.