Q&A: JP Mangalindan, Observer Alumnus


Published: May 1, 2008

JP Mangalindan, FCLC ’06, a former Arts and Culture editor of The Observer, spoke on March 5 at FCLC’s Writing Wednesdays. Mangalindan discussed his internships at magazines such as Teen People, US Weekly, Entertainment Weekly, Details and GQ, where he now works as a writer and editorial assistant. Following his presentation, Mangalindan sat down with The Observer to talk about his career.

The Observer: What first turned you on to journalism?

JP mangalindan: Between sophomore and junior year, I had been offered the opportunity to write a long, first-person feature for the equivalent of The New York Times in the Philippines called the Philippines Daily Enquirer. So I wanted to write my feature about being gay; I wanted to tackle that. I took the entire summer, about three months, just writing this feature…It was about what it was like for me to have parents who weren’t necessarily open to the idea of being gay initially, but who are great now, and then overcoming insecurity issues I had had in high school…I wrote it, and I really had that writer’s high the whole time I was writing, like I’m doing something meaningful and this is really good. That ran in the Philippines Daily Enquirer; it also ran in The Observer. From The Observer readers, I got cards from people who were like, “y son or my nephew I think is gay and he’s really having trouble with it, so thank you so much for writing about this somewhat taboo subject and being brave about it, and I’m going to show him a copy and make him read it to show him that he’s not alone.” Having that kind of reader feedback was like, it’s so cliché, but, “Wow, I could really make a difference. I can really affect people.” That was probably the moment I really wanted to do this, do something important, and make a difference, and not incite controversy, but make people think, have them react negatively or positively.

The Observer: How did your time with The Observer help you professionally?

jpm: When I joined The Observer, I realized journalism is what I wanted to do. And after my first internship, I realized [working in] magazines is what I wanted to do. Interviewing for any job you need clips, and when it comes to getting an internship, The Observer gave me the ammunition I needed to be a competitive applicant. Obviously, you get the chance to write a lot, which is awesome, but having the opportunity to edit other writers, be they good or not so good writers, has helped me a lot in my current job now as I get to edit other people. When you’re an editor on The Observer, I think the added bonus is, sure there’s a lot more stress, but you’re much more involved in the journalistic process, and I think your editing helps you as a writer and vice versa. It made me, obviously, a much better writer, but it prepared me to become an editor eventually.

The Observer: You mentioned editing other people. Primarily, what are your other duties at GQ as an editorial assistant?

jpm: I’m definitely not grabbing coffee for people or dry cleaning or other personal things. About half of it is administrative, so drafting contracts, ledger figures, processing writer invoices for payment. On the other side, there’s the editorial. I write sidebars, point of view items, perception plug manual which is lifestyle and fashion oriented. I also act as the grooming editor, so I edit and work on the grooming page, which runs every so often. I get a lot of really cool products. Recently, I interviewed Pete Wentz [of Fall Out Boy] and Adam Levine from Maroon 5 about what their secret weapon is. Every April, we have what is called the “Love Sex Madness” issue, basically about love, sex and madness. I interviewed various celebrities about their secret weapons, like what move or trick do they use to disarm their significant others. I did some initial reporting for some upcoming political projects, some general features, writing for online, research.

The Observer: Do you get to pitch stories?

jpm: Definitely, for front of book and features.

The Observer: Where do you get your ideas from? What is that process like for you?

jpm: I think it’s two-fold, the first being that you have a familiar knowledge of the publication you’re working for or pitching to. You know what they’ve run in the past two years, so whatever you pitch, it’s not something that we just ran two months ago….To go with that, especially in journalism, it’s all about delivering the news, delivering something fresh, so you have to be really on top of the news…It’s about finding smaller things that might be passed over, say something in a county journal or newspaper. If there’s a small reference to something that can be expanded and has potential, that’s something I’ll do more digging and look into, and often times at GQ, that’s how it works. They find something small and see if there’s a story there, and then it can be an amazing feature.

The Observer: Do you have any advice for our readers when it comes to applying for internships at magazines?

jpm: Regardless of whether it’s an internship or a magazine job, you should prepare as much as you can for the interview. Read a lot of back issues. Have a few ideas in case they ask you. It’s great to be constructively critical. If there’s something you don’t like, you can mention it as long as it’s constructive. When it comes to the school newspaper, I don’t think you need to be an editor, but write regularly about varied topics so that you have an array of clips to present to someone when you interview. It’s great to show that you wear many hats. I know that some kids are probably looking for some kind of magical recipe or formula for success so that they could distill it into what did he do to get his job at GQ. I really have to say that there wasn’t a cookie-cutter formula or recipe from where I got to where I am now because I went a year without a permanent job, a full-time job…I think the most I can recommend is to really bust your ass, just work really, really hard, and just keep going at it. Go above and beyond the call of duty. If they want you to come in three days, you offer to come in five days a week. You’re asked to come in from 10 to six, you come in at nine and you leave at seven or eight. You say yes to anything they ask; you  do it with a smile.