U.S. Capitol Building Rotunda George Washington in Washington, DC
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I must confess: When I first saw an opening for a job at the Washington Monthly, I’d never heard of it. I was in my mid-20s and had spent a few years reporting from abroad, in South Asia and the Middle East, and then covering U.S. foreign policy in Washington. But I was desperate to break into the magazine world. So many of my writer heroes had written for magazines.

After a quick consultation with Google, the Monthly gained instant credibility because of the long list of estimable journalists who began their careers at the magazine as editors: best-selling author Jonathan Alter, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Katherine Boo, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Taylor Branch, veteran journalist Matt Cooper, New York Times reporter Nicholas Confessore, New York Times editorial board member Michelle Cottle, best-selling author Gregg Easterbrook, Atlantic correspondent James Fallows, Time correspondent Haley Sweetland Edwards, Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Joshua Green, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, New Yorker staff writer Nicholas Lemann, Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer Jon Meacham, veteran journalist Timothy Noah, then Wired editor in chief (now Atlantic CEO) Nicholas Thompson, and others.

What stood out to me was the pattern. Young journalists had been starting off at this small magazine and going off to become some of the country’s most consequential writers and editors for decades. Its entire existence, in fact, has been an uninterrupted period of launching premier journalistic talent. (Even Ta-Nehisi Coates, while never an editor, began his career writing about race and culture for the Monthly.)

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All of a sudden, sitting at my computer, I was exhilarated by the possibility of landing a job at a magazine that just moments before had been as foreign to me as a television set was to E.T.

After a long, rigorous, and somewhat excruciating hiring process, I got the gig. And once I made it through the doors of the Monthly’s then-dingy office space in D.C.’s Dupont Circle (it has since been beautifully renovated), it didn’t take long for me to recognize what made the place, for lack of a better word, special.

On my first day, editor in chief Paul Glastris took me and another new hire, Daniel Block, out to lunch at the Daily Grill, an art deco–styled restaurant on the first floor of our building. As we young guns awaited our wedge salads, Paul (who opted for the chicken pot pie) went into a long disquisition explaining the first principles of the magazine’s distinctive brand of solutions-based ideas journalism.

“Other places write about what everyone is talking about,” he said, with the motivational timbre of a coach and the intensity of a cult leader. “We write about what everyone should be talking about.” While the Monthly has an imperative to offer stories you can’t get elsewhere, he continued, we hold ourselves to an even higher standard. “The quintessential Monthly story,” Paul said, “offers a solution to a problem you didn’t know you have.”

Indeed, that is precisely what this magazine has been doing since Charlie Peters founded it in 1969—and has continued doing since Paul took the reins in 2001.

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The Monthly was the first publication, more than 10 years ago, to warn about the deleterious effects of the American economy’s Gilded Age levels of monopoly power, with landmark pieces by Phil Longman, Barry Lynn, and, at the time, a little-known policy wonk named Lina Khan (now the chair of the Federal Trade Commission). The magazine changed the national conversation around higher education with its annual college guide and rankings, which measure schools based on how well they serve their students and the country rather than by their exclusivity and price. It championed vote by mail before it was fashionable, laying the intellectual groundwork for its widespread expansion when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

It’s clear to me now why the young editors who start their careers here—who struggle for two to three years with an awesome set of responsibilities and little pay—make such big impacts when they leave. It’s because they make big impacts while they’re here. Once they graduate to larger publications (places that can offer things like, you know, a 401k), they have already been indoctrinated in the Monthly way—and have shown results.

I’ve been at the Monthly for a little more than three years now and have had the great good fortune to not only learn my craft here but also make a difference, with stories on the chokehold Big Ag lobbyists have on Washington; on the titanic battle for Americans to have access to mail-in ballots; and on Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s advancing transportation infrastructure projects near properties he owns, which led to the state legislature unanimously passing stronger new ethics laws.

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Eventually, my term of service will come to an end, as it does for all Monthly editors, and I’ll hope to keep the flame burning, just as my colleagues have who worked beside me but now do great things elsewhere, such as Saahil Desai at The Atlantic, Gilad Edelman at Wired, Grace Gedye at CalMatters, and Daniel Block at Foreign Affairs.

So, please, this holiday season, do something to help keep this tradition going: Donate to the Monthly.

Investing in the Washington Monthly is investing in more than just a magazine. It’s investing in an indispensable American institution that does three things at once: It trains the next generation of leading journalists; it produces groundbreaking journalism that holds the powerful to account and exposes how government does and doesn’t work; and it introduces innovative ideas that can save our democracy and build a fairer, more equitable, more inclusive society.

If you think the Monthly’s unique journalism is important, there’s something you can do to help: Make a donation. In fact, do it right now. As a nonprofit, we cannot do our work without your support.

Plus, as a token of our gratitude, if you give $50 or more, you’ll receive a one-year gift subscription to the print edition of the Washington Monthly.

Eric Cortellessa

Follow Eric on Twitter @EricCortellessa. Eric Cortellessa is the Investigative Editor of the Washington Monthly.