The Assistant Files, Vol. 36: Cotton Codinha, ELLE’s Robbie Myers
(NEW YORK) When The Daily first ventured into the secretive world of editorial assistants, we nabbed a chat with Seth Plattner, the creative writer-turned-journalist who artfully crafted Robbie Myer’s daily schedule as editor-in-chief at ELLE. He passed on the baton to Cotton Codinha, whose political background has prepared her to balance being an editorial assistant with the scheduling, planning and general gate-keeping of assisting an EIC.
BY DENA SILVER
Tell us your backstory and how you landed a job at ELLE.
Right after college in Colorado, I went to DC and got a job with CBS News during the elections. I was working in TV and doing runner stuff. It was not a glam gig, but I was there when the election was announced. It was really cool to be working behind the scenes in TV during the elections. CBS decided that they liked me, so they kept me on in a temporary capacity to the bureau chief. Then I got a fellowship at The Atlantic, which is based in D.C.
Did you like working in the Capitol?
Washington, D.C. is a wonderful place, but after a while, I just reached that place where I felt the need to stretch out. I wanted to broaden my skills in magazines and also go to a new place, like New York. I started looking around and heard about this position at ELLE, so I applied here and got an interview for the job.
Have you always wanted to work in the editorial biz?
I did creative writing in college; it was just something that I’ve always been fascinated in, especially writing and the making of magazines. I hesitate to say that I collect magazines, because I sound like a hoarder…but I have always kept magazines with articles that I loved.
How was the interview process at ELLE?
I first interviewed with Seth Plattner, Robbie’s old assistant. Walking up here was so intimidating! You want to make sure you present yourself in the best way that you can.
Did you interview with Robbie next?
Yeah, my interview with her was right after the Christmas break, and I was getting over the worst cold. The only thing that lingered was this racking cough, which I still had when ELLE asked me to come in for an interview. I didn’t want to sit in front of the editor-in-chief and cough in her face, but I also knew I couldn’t give up this interview! I was with my sister the night before the interview. She made me stop taking cold medicine so I wouldn’t be drowsy. She helped finetune my outfit, and told me to hope for the best.
Did you end up coughing during your interview?
I didn’t cough during the entire half-hour interview! It was a miracle. As soon as I left, I had a coughing fit in the cab on the way home.
How was it to meet Robbie (aka your future boss) for the first time?
Interviews are always intimidating, but Robbie is so wonderful to talk to and so gracious. When you go into her office, it’s comfortable. She asked me about myself; it was clear that I was talking to someone very smart. It was just like having a really great conversation, not like she was grilling me.
What drew you to ELLE?
I always sort of had a literary bend and was very interested in reading, writing and all of that. I also loved fashion, but it wasn’t something that I really studied. This was the women’s fashion magazine that I felt that I could really relate to. ELLE tells amazing stories and handles reporting really well.
How do you start your day?
I get in before Robbie and open her office. I bring in the newspapers, set up all of the magazines, and make sure that she has all of the texts and layouts that are going out that day. I always make sure that everything is prioritized and in the order that she needs to look at it.
And when she gets in?
She’ll have various meetings and lunches with designers that I need to schedule. CEO’s and actresses will just casually stop by to see Robbie. She will do events, shoots, and run-throughs and she meets with a lot of editors. We’ll have a very set schedule, and then everything will just change. But it turns out to be fun!
How many meetings per day does Robbie cram in?
It depends. Some days there are eight to 10 half-hour meetings, plus lunches with editors.
What’s it like trying to get a meeting with Robbie?
Everyone finds that they need to talk to Robbie before they can move on with their day. I really appreciate that, so it’s always hard to be like ‘I understand that this is your road block, but Robbie also have several other road blocks that we need to massage and work out.’ There is always a constant stream of people in the office that are literally outside of her door, hoping to get in.
Any funny encounters with Robbie’s starriest visitors?
A while back, I saw someone with brown hair and a normal coat. I thought ‘Oh, that’s probably Allison Cohn [ELLE’s fashion news editor],’ who I’d been looking for to sign off on something. Then, she turned around and it was Allison Williams!
What was the most surprising part of Robbie’s gig?
Robbie looks at everything before it goes into the mag. She’s a really attentive editor, and a fantastic line editor, which is really interesting. I was surprised that the editor-in-chief would have that much time to closely edit what goes into the magazine.
Where is Robbie’s fave lunch spot?
She’s a total regular at the Lobby Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental! I’m, like, best friends with the manager of the restaurant; she’s so helpful. Often the day gets so packed, it’s really easy having a place that you can walk to in 15 minutes, especially in tall heels.
Aside from assisting Robbie, what are your other duties here?
I’m involved with the editorial staff and the features staff, meaning I’ve been pitching ideas and writing for the magazine.
‘ve gotten to write little book reviews…and the lead book review one month, which was amazing! I also get to write little blurbs and workbooks. I edit and write the Contributor’s page in the front of the book about the people who are behind-the-scenes of the magazine. It’s like cocktail chat with all these people I really respect! We also all write a lot for the website.
Out of everything you write, do you have a preferred beat?
I’ve been more interested in stuff that’s happening in literature and books.
What is your relationship like with the other assistants at the magazine?
We all actually work together a fair amount. We’re kind of like a little team, which is great! The role of being an assistant to the editor-in-chief can be described as a bit of a lonely job, because you’re on this team of one, but that’s not necessarily true. I’m definitely the person that works the most with Robbie, but I have a team of support when it comes to the rest of the magazine.
What is it like closing an issue here?
There are suddenly deadlines, everyone stays late, and there’s always a rush in the end when you are putting out an issue. There are always snacks, like doughnuts, that only come up once a month. And someone will go out for a coffee run and come back with chocolate pound cake. There’s definitely lots of take-out.
Have you ever made a cameo on Joe Zee’s TV show?
Filming around the office usually occurs after hours, so if you are ever here after close, you’ll definitely be in a few shots. I’d be sitting cross-legged with my hair in a big knot on my head, and these glamorous extras would come in to be filmed for one of Joe’s shows. And I’m just in the background [of the shot] in my cozy sweater.
Are you done for the day when you leave the office?
I wouldn’t say that it’s 24/7; I’m not getting emails at 3 a.m. demanding things, but I always have my phone on me and I pay attention to my emails. I want to be available to be reached.
What reading material prepares you for the daily grind?
I am super into Twitter, in that I have curated this list that I am so into. I check Twitter every morning, but I’m also a big Slate reader. I read WWD, New York Times, and I love New York!
Your sister, Alessandra Codinha, is in the mag world, too. Does journalism run in your fam?
Well there are two of us, so sure. But our parents are lawyers. We bounce ideas off of each other; it’s nice to have someone close to you in the same field.