Politico editor shares journalism experiences

Politico editor Charles Mahtesian discussed his career in political journalism in a Wednesday Master’s Tea.
Politico editor Charles Mahtesian discussed his career in political journalism in a Wednesday Master’s Tea. Photo by Jennifer Cheung.

While seeking jobs after graduation, young adults should ensure they are passionate about their career choices, according to Politico National Politics Editor Charles Mahtesian.

At a Wednesday Jonathan Edwards College Master’s Tea, Mahtesian provided general career advice as well as specific guidance in political journalism to an audience of roughly 20 students. After reflecting on his childhood and prior job experiences, Mahtesian explained Politco’s organizational structure and the type of writing Politico journalists hope to produce in their articles. He said his experience at the political news outlet has been rewarding because of his interest in politics on a state level.

“What’s really fascinating to me is not the racehorse aspect of politics, but the individual culture of every state,” Mahtesian said. “I found out that this is what I love. I’ve been to 48 states, and I love them all, and they are all different in their own ways — and I could talk about them all day long.”

Mahtesian said his inherent passion for state politics gave him an edge in the journalistic field because his interest was not focused on Washington, D.C., but spanned the country. In today’s competitive job market, he said it is critical that an employee distinguish him or herself from other “talented people” vying for similar positions.

While attending college at the Catholic University of America, located in Washington, D.C., Mahtesian had several internships in the U.S. Congress, in which he realized that he wanted to work in politics after graduation. During his senior year, he worked at Congressional Quarterly magazine as a newspaper clipper. After graduating, he was promoted to be CQ’s “clip room czar” because he was known as the only intern who would read every clip, he said.

“I got the reputation as the crazy kid who read every clip and could tell you anything going on in a state capital at any one time,” Mahtesian said. “It captured that I had a real passion for understanding what was going on politically across the country.”

Mahtesian explained that the greatest challenge Politico faces is finding people who can write well. He added that he and other Politco editors aim to find writers who can express themselves in a conversational way that breaks down complex ideas in a relatable form.

“I prefer hiring philosophy or English majors, because [these majors] teach you to think critically and analytically,” Mahtesian said. “Also, it forces you to express yourself in a way that other majors do not.”

Politico journalists face difficulties in the current media climate because of the need to find a tight balance between facts and analysis, he said. Mahtesian said Politico writers’ distinct voices — which he described as confident, commanding and able to “understand the forces at work in Washington” — distinguish the publication from other political news outlets.

He also explained that while page views matter for journalists, they are not an accurate measure of the quality of journalists’ work. He said he thinks it is more important for journalists to drive political debate and either find a story first or take it in a unique direction.

Still, Mahtesian said, he and his fellow editors are constantly “looking over [their] shoulders” to see which publications are on the rise and could compete with Politico.

JE Master Penelope Laurans said she thinks that Mahtesian’s career experiences, especially at CQ, illustrate the importance of working up through an organization.

Eric Sirakian ’15 said that before the Tea he did not know much about Politico or political journalism, but he enjoyed learning about the ways that journalism has changed in today’s society.

“I think the key takeaway was to really love what you do — like he said, to make sure that you’re excited to go to work the next day on Sunday nights,” he said.

Mahtesian worked as the editor of the National Journal’s “Almanac of American Politics” before joining Politico in 2008.

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