Like many in Washington, Matt Cohen is an overachiever. At 27, this Rockville native and current Northeast Washington resident serves as editor-in-chief of DCist.com after joining the news website two years ago as a writer. Gothamist is the operator, in some cases franchiser, of eight, city-centric blogs around the world.
Do you identify as a native Washingtonian?
I mean, it’s complicated. That’s such a contentious claim. I was born in D.C. and my parents lived—and I lived with them—in D.C. until I was three. And then they decamped for the suburbs. I grew up in Rockville, so I’ve lived in the area my whole life. It kind of depends on how you define “Washington native.” I just say ‘D.C.-area native.’ People get very touchy about [it].
You’re the editor-in-chief of DCist. What do you do on a daily basis?
Too much! I run the website, I write, edit, report, run social media, shape the direction of the site, manage freelancers…DCist has always been a two-person team, so I’m one of the two people that keeps it going. I do a lot of blogging during the day, edit freelancers’ stuff, try to go out and do reporting and try to make original content and find interesting stories to tell. [There’s] often not enough time in the day to do all of that, and sometimes I’m doing more of one thing than another thing. But that’s essentially what I do.
What do you love most about your job?
There’s a lot of freedom to do whatever we want. We’re owned by Gothamist in New York, and they are our bosses. But they are really great at letting all the different “-ist” sites that they technically own sort of operate [by] themselves. I don’t really get told, “you should do this,” or “you should do that.” I just have to figure it out and [say], “I think this is an interesting story, I’m going to do it.”
Sometimes it works. Sometimes I write stuff that’s really weird and no one really clicks on it. But it at least made me happy, and then I can go back to writing a post about Bao Bao (the National Zoo’s Giant Panda cub) that will get thousands of page views.
Is there anything you’ve written that you’re really proud of?
Last fall, I did this piece, spent a couple of days reporting about it. There’s this charter school in D.C., E.L. Hanes, they’re a new charter school. So their first senior class, they had [students] do this yearlong sociology seminar, and they spent a whole unit about gentrification in D.C. For part of that, they took the kids to neighborhoods all over D.C., from Barry Farms and Anacostia to [Shaw], to see the effects of gentrification. They’re natives and their families have lived there forever and they’re getting priced out of their neighborhoods.
We hear you’re also a musician.
I play in a lot of bands. I grew up playing punk music, bass guitar, and I just kept doing it. Right now I’m playing in three or four bands. I can’t say no when people say, ‘let’s start a band.’ It’s just hard for me to do it, but they’re all new. I used to play in this one band for 2 ½ years with two of my best friends—and then one of them moved to Chicago, so we broke up. After that, whoever asked to play music, I would say, ‘Yeah, OK, sure.’ It’s fun.
I sometimes book shows in the area for friends’ bands that are travelling. Some friends and I, we put on a music festival last summer called In It Together Fest. It’s a DIY punk, art, sort of every creative outlet that we could get, festive celebration.
We try to make it like a completely inclusive celebration of all of D.C.’s creative communities, with a focus on music. We had concerts all over the city. We’re in the middle of planning for this year. It’s great and a headache.