Thursday, July 4, 2013

Quietly Leading by Example: Lafayette's Katie MacDonald

Katie Macdonald is not fearless. The Louisiana native freely acknowledges this about herself, recounting a recent nerve-wracking walk down the streets of midtown Manhattan.

What she is, however, is poised, humble, passionate, and talented. “I’m pragmatic,” she says. “I like structure.”  Katie employed this attitude as the editor-in-chief at Legacy, an award-winning student run magazine at LSU, and now is thriving as a Reader’s Digest intern. Her drive and professionalism will no doubt serve her well whether she decides to stay in the big city or return home.

Katie’s journalism career was sparked by a movie about a dog. “I watched Marley & Me junior year, and I saw that [John Grogan] really enjoyed his life and his writing…and I love dogs,” she says, laughing. She soon enrolled in the LSU communications school and was drawn to apply to Legacy through her love of storytelling.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however. “They didn’t even run my first article,” she says of her exposé of open relationships. “I was awkward and it was just not good.” She remembers that pivotal experience pushed her to be a sharper writer, and later, to be a compassionate, engaged editor.

As Katie moved up the editorial ladder (“on a fluke,” she claims), eventually becoming editor-in-chief, she began to see the power she held in her community. “I had someone come up to me and tell me, ‘that’s the first time I enjoyed the magazine. I read it cover to cover,’” she says. Along the way, she wrote a cover story about a football star persevering through Hurricane Katrina and eviction - he cried after reading it - and spearheaded a piece about coming out in Baton Rouge, which was embraced by the gay community and the campus-at-large. She had transformed a niche magazine into a dynamic, well-rounded publication.

Her commitment to the growth of Legacy was strongly felt by her peers. “Her influence is one of teamwork,” says Christina Li, LSU classmate and art director of Legacy. “Even as a writer, she was interested in the design side of things and would ask me for feedback. That was pretty unheard of. When she became editor-in-chief, she definitely took that interest and tried to apply it for everyone.”

Ever the underdog, Katie has been slightly taken aback by the perks of being in a program as renowned as ASME. “I’m used to having a 'good luck!' mentality, so it’s so strange going to these events and having like, this ASME halo,” she says. She’s made the most of it, though—at Reader’s Digest, she’s been writing content for slideshows and meeting with editors from different departments.

Being in New York has thrown a wrench in her plans of staying a Louisiana gal through and through. She now is a little closer to her dream of becoming a food and travel journalist, which is a little frightening.

“I didn’t want to like New York,” she says. “But I like it. And now, I don’t know what I want to do with my life. And that scares me.”

Katie might take a hint from her own long walk across Manhattan island, when she had to navigate through an area she had never seen: “I put in my earphones, I pretended to know where I was going, and I got there.” She may not have the most faith in her own future, but her peers, successors, and readers certainly do.

-Written by Andrew R. Chow, Harvard College, TV Guide
- Edited by Kelli Fitzpatrick, Kent State University, Reader's Digest

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