Zigging and Zagging in the Information Age

I suppose I should not bury the lede – there is some news – I have been recognized as one of the “Top 25 Brand Builders” of 2017 by Leading Women Entrepreneurs, a New Jersey organization founded by start-up queen Linda Wellbrock. The story of the honorees is being reported by NJ BIZ and NJ Advance/Star-Ledger and will soon appear in New Jersey Monthly. Brand builder, you might ask? I will explain. But first let’s back up.



A friend told me the other day that she puts in extra effort to keep regular tabs on me because I am always in the midst of change. First, she says, I was a journalist (at The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.) Then, she noted, I worked in communications at Princeton University, first as a science writer and then as director of communications at Princeton’s Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL). Now, she said (her tone growing a bit exasperated) I’m an author and public speaker. And, and (she said “and” twice to make sure I heard as I am a noted daydreamer), I teach journalism and public relations at Rutgers University and, in the fall, will also be teaching at the legendary St. Benedict’s Prep High School in Newark. (60 Minutes piece)

Harumph, she said. What’s with all this change?

Funny. Where my good friend senses change, I respectfully disagree: I’d like to say I see continuum and growth. The information environment in which we all are swimming is in constant flux. I don’t want to live in a vacuum. I want to respond to my environment.

Like anyone else, a combination of hard work and luck gave me some career victories. In my case, they included getting a job at a daily newspaper straight out of college, earning my first front-page spot at a major daily for a police story that went from being routine to obscene, being assigned the science beat at the Ledger, landing a coveted job at Princeton, winning a management position at PPPL, getting a short story published, writing a novel, and learning from great colleagues so I could teach at Rutgers and St. B’s. Each one has led naturally to the next challenge. It’s all connected. That’s how I see it, anyway.

The best public speakers, according to one of the all-time experts, the late Dale Carnegie, are those who speak from a deep well of experience. They stand before their audience with the confidence of someone who has lived their subject, experiencing accomplishments and mistakes, proud moments and embarrassments, in times exciting and deadly dull. They have worked with geniuses, wits, pranksters, curmudgeons, martinets, lazy lumps, backstabbers, braggarts, sweethearts, gentle souls, cynics, and skeptics. Far from being a plain bolt of fabric, their worklives are tapestries, wildly and luxuriously emblazoned, sturdy to the touch.

I also enjoy talking about my mistakes, especially to my students because they look so surprised. Either they can’t believe I was that stupid or they can’t absorb the idea that I would own up to it. Indeed, there were the times I could have done much better, the times when I was blinded by knowledge rather than being set free by it, the time I believed in a journalistic subject so much I couldn’t see his deception, the times I was lax about my own safety, and the hours I wasted dreaming about winning prizes when, in the end, work is never about that.

I am, therefore, super honored about the award from the Leading Women Entrepreneurs because someone else nominated me without my knowledge and because it places me in a company of woman who I admire and who have achieved so much. I am being honored for my efforts as comms director at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory  where both the DOE and the University allowed me the privilege of building a comms team of wizards to newly produce a dynamic website, a newsmagazine, multiple social media accounts, both internal and external e-newsmagazines, and multiple other offerings. The idea was to encourage the plasma physicists and engineers and other employees of the Lab to tell the incredible story of fusion energy and convey its importance to the public. And, I’m proud to say they did and that the effort has continued.

Instigated by my brilliant colleague, Robin Gaby Fisher, I have also introduced public relations to the journalism students at Rutgers University in Newark. Fisher, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist-author I worked with at the Star-Ledger, is now leading the journalism program at Rutgers-Newark. In addition to hiring me to teach various journalism classes, she has also urged me to introduce the program’s first PR courses.  My students are flying high with this knowledge and gaining great internships.

As for me, I plan to continue walking the journalistic and communications path that strikes me as exciting and consistent, at least to my eyes!

— Kitta MacPherson