BABE #109: VIRGINIA CHAMLEE,
Senior Communications Manager
We first came across Virginia’s name, and more importantly, her work, when we moved to Jax a few years ago. From working as the Editor of Jacksonville Magazine, to being a successful food writer for Eater, to a kickass thifter and ardent antique collector, to a versatile freelance writer and consultant for brand names like Buzzfeed and The Washington Post, this babe does it all, and she does it in style. Thanks for chatting with us, Virginia - you are indeed a hustlin' babe, and we're excited to see what you accomplish next!
Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
Current city: Jacksonville, FL
Alma mater: I spent the first part of college at Southern Methodist University, but graduated from the University of North Florida.
Degree: B.A., English
Very first job: I worked the front desk at a private airport in Jacksonville, directing pilots in the air on where to land, charging people for fuel, that kind of thing.
Hustle: Senior Communications Manager // Style & Beauty Features Writer @ Buzzfeed
Babe you admire and why?
My grandmother, Joy Hollingsworth. She is a small business owner (she owns Cottage by the Sea in Jacksonville Beach, a furniture and decor store) and raised me from the time I was about a month old—as a single mom, no less. She’s the ultimate babe who hustles and the fiercest woman I know.
How do you spend your free time?
I’m out treasure-hunting pretty much every weekend—estate sales, auctions, thrift stores, you name it. I’ve amassed a pretty enormous collection of vintage clothing, accessories, furniture and art. Mostly, I buy for myself, but I also have a little side business selling vintage to dealers and collectors. I also love to cook and I go to Orangetheory as often as I can. I also recently bought a 100-year-old house, so I’ve been spending a lot of time on renovations.
Must-have item in your purse?
I’m addicted to Olio E Osso in shade 3 from Gloss Goods. I use it as a lip balm and cheek tint. I also carry a tape measure everywhere with me, as I’m constantly on the hunt for art and furniture.
Biggest pet peeve?
People who don’t follow the news. In this day and age, with so much information at our fingertips, there’s no excuse not to be informed.
What’s one thing you wish you knew more about?
The stock market.
What’s something most don't know about you?
I filmed an episode of Reading Rainbow when I was 6. I was so shy I didn’t even look up from the book, and they never aired it. I also once filmed an episode of a game show that was supposed to air on MTV and ended up being picked up by the LOGO network. Not sure that actual episode ever aired, either, so I’m kind of the queen of filming things that no one ever actually sees.
Tell us about your hustle:
I am the Senior Communications Manager for a consulting firm focused on the restaurant industry. I do a lot of research and write about things like private equity and venture capital. I came to this line of work having spent 10 years in journalism, but I still write on the side when time permits.
What does your typical workday look like?
I work remotely, so a typical day entails me heading to a 6:15 a.m. Orangetheory class, coming home and making an acai bowl and firing up the Nespresso, then working from home on everything from client work to internal collaterals.
When and why did you choose to pursue communications? What has that journey looked like for you?
I’ve always loved to read, so I knew I wanted to write from a young age. My first job out of college was as a staff reporter for a legal publication, and about a year later I was awarded a journalism fellowship through the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. For a while, I did both, until the fellowship became a full-time offer. Still, I continued freelancing on the side, which turned out to be a smart move, as freelancing eventually led me to become managing editor of Jacksonville Magazine. I was there for over three years, but would still freelance occasionally for The Washington Post and some other publications. Eventually, I left the magazine to take a role as the national news reporter at Eater.com. From there, I landed in my current role.
Do you have any advice for Babes looking to start pitching their own work to publications?
My biggest advice for those looking to break into journalism is not to be afraid to pitch. I pitch all my own stories and always have; for The Washington Post, Jacksonville Magazine and Buzzfeed. As editor of Jacksonville Magazine, I would often get inquiries from people interested in freelance writing, but very rarely was approached with a pitch. The best way to pitch a story is to do research. If you want to write for a magazine, read the magazine, get an idea for its voice and content, and find a way to fill in the gaps. Is there a story you think is missing? A question that still needs to be answered? For me, this often comes as a result of curiosity. One day, I was wondering what it would be like to do mortuary cosmetology, so I pitched it and ended up writing a feature on it for Buzzfeed. It’s rare that editors will send a writer a story idea. You have to carve out your own niche for yourself.
Where do you think your love for writing comes from?
I was an only child, raised by my grandmother, so I often say I was like a small adult. I hated candy and cartoons, but I loved to read. I would read entire chapter books in a matter of hours, even in the first grade. Writing to me was an extension of that.
How would you say being a woman has affected your professional experience?
When I was 23, I was one of four people (and the only woman) selected for an investigative political journalism fellowship, and had the opportunity to interview politicians who have since gone on to make huge names for themselves (Marco Rubio, Rick Scott, etc.) People didn’t always take me seriously, but it worked to my advantage. When people don’t take you seriously, they tell you more, and as a journalist, that’s pretty much gold. But, even later in my career, I would still get a lot of comments or emails about my work that men simply didn’t. For instance, it’s not at all uncommon for a man to just write you an email that says, “Your title sucks.”
What is the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
There are a lot of women in journalism, though I definitely think the women in arenas like politics and sports face an uphill battle. Consulting is the same, though I think both are evolving.
What are some common misconceptions about your job(s)?
There are all sorts of misconceptions about journalists! That we specialize in “fake news,” for one, or that we are elitist. In reality, the average journalist makes far less than the average politician, and has nothing to gain from writing a story that’s completely false.
What would you say are your biggest career milestones?
When I worked as a political journalism fellow, I was simultaneously working as a staff reporter for a legal publication, which required me to look through court filings. I happened to stumble across a lawsuit against a Florida Congressman, filed by the Federal Election Commission, alleging a host of ethics violations. I was literally at the right place, at the right time, and got to break the story first. From there, it took on a life of its own, and eventually, led to a House Ethics Committee investigation that cited my work. The Congressman still has his job, but it was crazy to be able to effect change on that level. I also wrote an op-ed about my mother for The Washington Post, of which I am very proud.
Do you ever struggle to come up with new ideas? How do you combat creative blocks?
I struggle with ideas all the time. The best way to combat blocks, in my opinion, is to read. Reading often inspires me to ask more questions, which leads to new story ideas.
What would you say is your biggest strength?
I think my biggest strength as a writer or journalist is my ability to speak to people and really listen to them. I’ve found that people are willing to open up if you express a genuine interest in them.
What’s your ultimate dream job?
It’s totally unrelated to journalism, but in a dream world, I’d have a show on HGTV where I unearth finds at thrift stores across America and show people how to style them in a home.
Dream publications you’d love to write for?
I have been so fortunate to work for some amazing publications, including Ms. Magazine, The Washington Post, Business Insider, Buzzfeed and Eater. The New Yorker would be pretty dope, though.
Are you involved with any other community organizations or side projects?
I am on the Communications Committee of the Women’s March Immigration Group, Jacksonville Chapter.
What kind of support system do you have behind your work?
My grandmother is my biggest champion. She constantly tells me how proud she is and shares my work on Facebook with her friends. My mom is also very vocal about how proud she is. Half the fun of writing a big piece is just seeing how happy they are to read it.
Are there any specific people or events that have influenced the course of your career?
My mom had a major impact on my life and my work. She suffered a gunshot wound when I was a month old. That has always made me interested in effecting change by telling other people’s stories.
What motivates and inspires you?
I’m most motivated by reading the work of others. Whenever I read a great story—whether it’s in the New York Times or The Onion—it makes me want to work twice as hard and stretch myself.
What does success look like to you?
Success, for me, is about affecting change. The stories of which I am most proud are those that had an impact on policy.
What are some notable experiences you’ve had on the job?
Once, when I was a political reporter, a man got mad about a story I wrote, so he sent out a press release about me—where I went to school, the city I lived in, etc.
What are your goals for the future?
1) write a book. 2) travel the country and hit every Goodwill in America.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
ABH: always be hustlin’. Seriously. My side-hustles have proved integral to every point of career success for me. I also think it’s crucial to ask questions. If you know what industry you want to work in, find someone in that industry, ask them questions, take them to lunch—their advice and connections will likely be helpful.
In partnership with:
Grammarly is the world’s leading automated proofreader that checks for more than 400 types of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. It enhances vocabulary usage, suggests citations, and has ultimately saved our lives. The BWH community are HUGE fans of Grammarly and can't quite imagine our lives without it at this point. Check it out, and thank us later.