Don’t take edits personally! The first time I got edits, it felt like my work got ripped to shreds and I wasn’t good enough, but that’s never the case. There’s always going to be changes made to make it the best.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emiliano Villa.
Emiliano is a multimedia journalist born and raised in Oakland, California. In his time at YR Media, he’s covered the intersection of queer arts & culture and politics, with a focus on addressing inequality. His work has been featured on NPR, San Francisco Chronicle, and The New York Times.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
Of course! Thank you for having me. I grew up in East Oakland, California. Ever since I can remember, I was consuming media voraciously and was very aware of it. I knew I could turn on the TV for news, radio music, and more. Naturally, I was captivated. Pop culture in particular always drew my eye as it was most accessible to me, be it MTV or tabloids.
You are currently part of an organization that aims to make a social impact (YR Media). Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
YR Media works to provide inner-city high school students with media education to prepare them for successful careers in journalism, music and video production, and more. Through YR Media’s programs, they give students real-life tools needed to find their passions and get a head start on their careers with real relevant work. Many of these students aren’t able to learn these things in school, so it’s the access and support that makes the difference.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about journalism and the YR Media cause?
As I mentioned, I’ve always been extremely passionate about the media world and always knew I wanted a part of it. I grew up watching TRL on MTV, which honestly isn’t too different from most kids, but I wasn’t too interested in the celebrity guests. I was more infatuated with the VJs! I wanted to be them! I loved the idea of standing in the studio, on-camera interviewing the celebs and getting to know all the news firsthand. Back then, I had no idea how one would even get that opportunity but I knew I wanted to and would do all I could to make it happen. I also loved reading and writing from an early age, and it didn’t take long for me to put the two together.
I joined YR Media when I was in high school, starting as a media education student and later becoming an intern. It came to me so easily and I finally felt my passion flowing out. I was excited and proud to spend my free time researching, interviewing and getting tape, putting together radio pieces. This is really when it was cemented that I wanted to pursue journalism further.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
It was really finding YR Media for me. But once I had the tools and the knowledge, I knew it was what I had been waiting for. One of my first pieces was sent to national radio, so the day someone I knew told me they heard my voice and recognized me made me realize the impact I could have. It was a lot of work at first, but I knew it was what I wanted and that it would be an uphill battle of learning by doing.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new project, organization, etc. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
I knew my end goal, which was a successful career in journalism. I knew what I was starting with, which was my passions and interests in queer culture, politics, addressing inequality. These became my beats! Perfecting my voice and style of writing through practice at YR Media definitely helped me find myself.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you became a part of YR Media?
I was able to report on my first red carpet! I covered the 2018 GLAAD Awards in San Francisco and got to meet some big inspirations like Michelle Visage and Ross Mathews of Rupaul’s Drag Race and Kim Petras. It was like the confirmation that everything I was doing was the right path for me, because there I was interviewing celebrities and TV personalities that I grew up watching. It really was one of the highlights of my career.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
I write a lot of pieces for radio, and part of that style is simplicity. You have to write things in a straightforward fashion that someone driving a car or out on a walk could digest quickly. Some of my earlier pieces were a bit wordy, painting out scenes pretty dramatically. I’ve learned to shy away from theatrics and try to stick to the point!
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
I did! The YR Media staff is incredible. They serve as mentors in a way that feels very mutual. They aren’t teachers or professors, moreso just professionals who meet interns and students at their level, working alongside them and helping them learn by doing. My mentor Shawn helped me find my style by never shooting down my ideas but helping me tailor them to make them better. Sometimes dismissive attitudes can lead people to want to give up, but that was never the case.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I can’t think of just a single individual, as there’s so many YR Media alums who go onto greatness. Pendarvis Harshaw, host of KQED’s Rightnowish podcast is an amazing storyteller, Iamsu! Is a rapper who came up through YR’s Arts department, as well as Sayre Quevedo who’s an amazing journalist who’s worked with VICE, Latino USA and more. YR alums are really out here killing it!
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Inner-city high schools need the same funding as suburban and private high schools. Kids who are already predisposed to do well, be able to afford college or internships, and not have to work go to schools with media academies, new auditoriums, and more. Inner-city kids are rarely afforded any of these. This intentional defunding of education harms these students by taking away their right to opportunities and makes it so much harder for them to pursue college or trades. Schools need to provide all students with access to training programs, technology, and higher education.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Don’t take edits personally! The first time I got edits, it felt like my work got ripped to shreds and I wasn’t good enough, but that’s never the case. There’s always going to be changes made to make it the best.
- Let it all out. The worst thing a writer can do is hold in their ideas and try to sort them out in their brain. Pour them out and sort through later.
- Jump on a story idea. News is like a firehose these days, so if an idea hits you have to strike while it’s hot.
- Listen intently while interviewing, hold onto the best bits. Adapt your questions to the answers you’re getting to go deeper and get as much information as you can.
- Network, don’t social climb. Networking is a scary idea to some because it can easily be perceived as transactional and fake, and if you’re only looking at people as steps to your goals it will be. Meet new people sincerely, introduce them to your work, and opportunities will come your way.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Doing good for the world will bring good to you. Selfish, individualist thinking may seem like it will get you far but it only leads to conflicts and creates enemies. Being kind and helping others will get you much farther. People will like you and never have anything bad to say about you if you genuinely treat people well and how you would like to be treated. Bring a positive attitude and you’ll go far.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
To be honest, probably Britney Spears. She’s a huge inspiration and completely underestimated for her own role in her rise to global power. She was the most famous woman in the world at one point, so her energy had to resonate with those millions of people. I’d love to know about the ins-and-outs of her career and her views on the music industry today that is following the blueprint of her career. She was seen as having a fall from grace but really she was just human, reacting to the enormous pressures placed on her while under a microscope. Plus, I’d love to just sit back and laugh with her!
How can our readers follow you online?
I’m on Twitter @EmilianoOAK.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Thank you for having me!