Student Writer Blossoms into a Savvy Media Producer

Posted: September 29, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Art Taylor

During his undergraduate years at Mason, Ken Budd, BA ’88, MA ’97, admits that he was not an inspired student and was all over the place in choosing his major. He tried computer science, social work and business, and was moving toward yet another major —English — when he enrolled in a course that may have marked a turning point in his life.

“I took an undergrad writing class taught by Erica Jacobs,” Budd remembers. “This was probably back in 1987. She really liked my work. Erica’s praise came at an important time. It was the first time I ever thought of myself as a writer.”

Today, Budd is an award-winning writer and editor whose work has appeared in publications from Smithsonian to Stuff (a Maxim spin-off) and ranges from more standard journalistic approaches (in The Washington Post and Washingtonian, among others) to creative flights of fancy as an occasional contributor to the online version of McSweeney’s.

Budd also wrote a popular condo legal book, “Be Reasonable!,” edited “Community Associations and the Environment,” and is proposing a first-person book on voluntourism, prompted in part by two weeks he and his wife spent teaching English in Costa Rica.

Ken Budd with Costa Rican children
Ken Budd with schoolchildren in Costa Rica.
Photo by Karen Budd

And all that is on top of Budd’s current day job at AARP The Magazine, the world’s largest circulation magazine with 34 million readers.

Budd began his career path straight out of college, employed first at an Arlington publishing company, then with an association that published Common Ground, a magazine serving people who run condo and homeowners associations.

“Not exactly glamorous stuff,” says Budd, “but I always found that every industry has its own intrigues and dramas. And I wouldn’t trade the experience because I got to do a little bit of everything, from production to fact checking to handling reader requests.”

Budd’s work at Common Ground won several awards from the Society of National Association Publications and the American Society of Association Executives.

His experience and accolades there also helped him to earn a position at AARP, first as the health editor and then managing the magazine’s Navigator section. In 2005, Budd’s leadership of the section earned him a nomination for a National Magazine Award, and that same year he helped the magazine win General Excellence in the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation’s Lowell Thomas Awards.

About two years ago, he became the magazine’s travel editor, which took him to the U.S. cities of Scottsdale, Santa Barbara and New Orleans, as well as Ireland and Italy.

“Not a bad gig,” Budd says.

AARP is published six times a year, in three different versions, in about 30 different regional editions, keeping Budd on a busy schedule. In addition to meeting deadlines with these various editions, he has seen his role expand beyond the print medium.

“We keep hearing that our jobs are changing,” explains Budd, “that we’ll soon be producers rather than editors, meaning we should be thinking of multimedia possibilities, not just for the web, but for AARP’s two radio shows and two new TV programs.”

Budd himself is a monthly guest on AARP’s “Prime Time Focus” radio program, and he’s made multiple TV and radio appearances throughout his career.

And ever-loyal to his alma mater, he’s contributed articles to Mason Spirit, the alumni magazine, as well as the Mason Gazette.

Beyond all this, Budd still finds time for his own writing.

“It’s tough, because when you spend your whole day writing and editing, coming home and staring at the computer screen isn’t all that enticing,” he says. “It’s kind of like a butcher who comes home and stuffs sausages. So if I write something, it’s purely for fun.”

Budd is slated to share his writing tips with Mason alumni and current students as part of a Writing in the Real World panel on Saturday, Oct. 4, at 12:30 p.m. in the Johnson Center Cinema. For more information, e-mail engnews@gmu.edu.

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in the English Department newsletter Not Just Letters.

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