As the 10 a.m. editorial meeting at Politico, the news agency covering politics and policy, begins, there’s a lot to cover. It’s July 12, 2018, and President Trump—fresh from a topsy-turvy NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, and prepping for a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki—is now in England, set to meet with British prime minister Theresa May. On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, FBI agent Peter Strzok is about to tell a congressional committee how, despite expressing anti-Trump sentiments via texts, he was able to impartially investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. 

And, yet, Politico’s editor, alumna Carrie Budoff Brown, seems awfully calm. “OK,” Brown RC’98 tells the dozen editors gathered in a glass-walled conference room, “let’s get started.”

Politico, a once-scrappy start-up launched in 2007, is now an internet juggernaut, with more than 25 million unique visitors each month who check out videos, podcasts, print publications, and an array of channels addressing political power plays and governmental machinations. And its Playbook—a twice-daily, political-junky newsletter—is read not only by seemingly all of Washington, but by interested parties around the world. 

So one would assume this meeting—as well as the vast, reporter-populated newsroom outside the door—is manic. But it isn’t. In part, that’s because Brown, whose work as an editor at the Daily Targum while an undergraduate at Rutgers University–New Brunswick helped land her an internship with the New York Timeshelms a new normal: a 24/7 news cycle fueled by insatiable social media and a Twitter-happy president. “It’s such a complex White House,” Brown will say after the meeting. “We just know so much more about this president. When I covered Obama, we did one palace-intrigue story every three months. Now, it’s five a day—which requires more staffing and choosing which stories have the highest impact.”

As the meeting progresses, those stories pile up. In Brussels, Trump hinted he has bones to pick with May. But the biggest question is: What will he discuss with President Putin? As her colleagues brainstorm, it becomes apparent that Brown, who’s been editor for two years, is a low-key boss. Only occasionally does she jump in, to share an opinion or offer guidance.

“It’s extremely effective,” Paul Volpe, Politico’s executive editor, says of Brown’s style. “She doesn’t micromanage. She gives people room, but with a strong sense of where she wants things to go.”

After someone mentions, for example, that Trump called himself a “very stable genius” during the NATO summit, a debate ensues over how, if at all, to address the claim. Someone else mentions that European officials have been sharing their opinions, off the record, with Politico reporters. “Let’s see if we can get them on the record,” Brown says. “Then we may have a story.”

And, indeed, hours from now, this story, featuring various takes on Trump’s political maneuverings, will appear on Politico’s home page: “ ‘Very Stable’ Trump? European Leaders Beg to Differ.” 

Apropos to its moniker, the news agency covers more than presidents. Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, Politico also has offices in three other states and in Brussels, its European base. Of its more than 500 employees, 100 are reporters focused solely on policy issues—among them, cybersecurity, education, health care, and trade. Most of the work that these Pro—or “policy intelligence for pros”—reporters do is available through subscriptions ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 a year, depending on the extent of the coverage.    

Otherwise, Politico’s news and feature stories, supported by digital ad sales, are free in both print and digital forms. Its website offers a menu of options, including The Agenda, policy coverage for nonsubscribers, and Politico Magazine, home of op-eds and long-form content.

In many ways, Brown, who joined Politico prior to its launch, has helped shape the news agency. “Nobody had done this before,” recalls John Harris, a former Washington Post editor who cofounded Politico. “But Carrie, who had a job at the Philadelphia Inquirer, reached out to us. Where we thought media was going seemed to resonate with her, and her willingness to join us was a vote of confidence. She was a cofounder in that sense.”

She also worked hard to land breaking stories by cultivating sources and mastering subjects, which came to include health care and immigration policies as she moved from being a reporter covering first the United States Senate and then the Obama presidential campaign to becoming the White House correspondent for the news organization. “Politico was seen strictly as a political junky site early on,” Harris says, “but she helped prove we could be serious with policy coverage.”

Brown was so good that, by 2014, she was getting job offers from other agencies. Politico, in turn, upped the ante, promoting her to managing editor in its brand-new Brussels office, where she oversaw coverage of terrorist attacks, Greece’s debt crisis, and Brexit. And she knew, instinctively, how to get the best out of her reporters. So when the editor spot in Arlington opened up, just after the November 2016 election, “we felt she was ready,” Harris says. 

But for what, exactly? “With Trump, we knew it would be different,” recalls Volpe, who joined Politico in December 2016 after covering presidents for the Washington Post and the New York Times. “But it wasn’t till the day after the inauguration, when [then White House press secretary] Sean Spicer started making statements that we knew how different.”

Although Brown acknowledges the tectonic shift, her approach to reporting hasn’t changed. “Sourcing is an added layer of complexity in this White House,” she says. “There are so many power centers—the Ivanka/New York wing versus the nationalist wing versus Wall Street. So if you get a tip out of one, you have to have a surround-sound style of reporting. It takes a village to land one scoop.” 

This exhaustive practice helps distinguish Politico, which rarely, if ever, is called out for “fake news.” The reason is simple. “We don’t produce fake news,” Brown says. “We produce fact-based journalism.”  

Which makes sense. Raised in York, Pennsylvania, by parents who gobbled up TV news and newspapers, Brown interned at a local paper before enrolling at Rutgers, her father’s alma mater, and discovered she loved reporting. And, at Rutgers, she dove into politics, spending her junior year as an undergraduate associate at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “I think any college you go to is what you make of it,” Brown says. “With Rutgers, I had so much access to all of these different resources, and I was between New York and Philadelphia.”

After graduation, she worked first at the Hartford Courant, then at the Philadelphia Inquirer where as an occasional blogger, she realized the journalistic power of the internet. What she also realized, working crazy hours during Politico’s start-up days, is that all work and no personal life isn’t sustainable. Brown is married to freelance photojournalist Tom Brown, with whom she has a 6-year-old daughter, Celia. So, as both editor and mother, she’s helping change the work-life balance dynamic at Politico. “She wants to make it a more human newsroom while still remaining competitive,” Volpe says. “It’s now a culture that attracts and retains talented journalists.”

The key, Brown says, is seeing her job in 50-50 terms: half journalism, half business. “I’m doing everything I can to help make money that supports that journalism.” This includes coming up with various multimedia approaches to news sharing. 

“We do a lot of different things,” Brown says, “and I think there’s lots of different audiences. It’s not a monolithic readership in our world right now.” •