Growing up on a small farm in Alabama, Ken Melton’s main entertainment was news. “Even as a kid, I used to watch TV news from around the world and take my dad’s newspaper and try to read it,” he said. “I thought, ‘I really like what they’re doing. I don’t know how to get there, but I’m going to try.’”
Melton was guest speaker for the Feb. 16 episode of S&T Live, marking the one-year anniversary of PRSA’s monthly webinar series on LinkedIn.
After studying video at a small college, Melton joined the United States Marines Corp. “They had an excellent program at the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Maryland,” he said. The school imparted “a breadth of knowledge — how to write, how to ask questions, how to speak.”
Later, he was embedded with an infantry unit in Iraq. “If you’ve ever watched the movie “Full Metal Jacket,” there’s a character called Joker [played by actor Matthew Modine]. He goes out in the field with frontline infantrymen and tells their stories. That was my job.”
An early piece Melton wrote about a young soldier was rejected for publication. Later, the soldier was killed in action, without having his story told.
“I carried that with me,” Melton said. “I thought, ‘Never again.’ Never again will I take the opportunity to tell somebody’s story and not be able to do it because I was nervous or unsure. He trusted me to tell his story. And now, that part of his story is gone.”
After the Marines, Melton attended the Military Visual Journalism Program at Syracuse University, where he honed his photography skills. He later realized that he preferred public relations to journalism. Melton earned a master’s degree in public relations from Georgetown University.
“I like telling a good story,” he said. “I like helping people express themselves creatively and share their knowledge.”
Melton is now communications strategist for the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. Sponsored by the U.S. Navy and Department of Defense, the university-affiliated research center located between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore aims to “solve complex research, engineering and analytical problems that present critical challenges to our nation,” according to its website.
Melton works in the center’s Air and Missile Defense sector. “I try to tell the story of what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and how we’re doing it,” he said. Melton writes stories about the Johns Hopkins physics laboratory “not only for people outside the lab, but also for people internally to the lab, so we can share successes, share ideas and collaborate.”
Writers need ‘a healthy dose of doubt.’
Referencing Melton’s article in February’s annual writing and storytelling issue of Strategies & Tactics, John Elsasser, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief and host of S&T Live, asked about having “a healthy dose of doubt” when starting a writing project.
“Writers feel a pride of ownership,” Melton said. “While it’s not a bad thing, that pride also causes writers to think, ‘I have arrived. I can tell a story better than anybody.’ But when you have that healthy dose of doubt, you’re going to question if something you’ve written really is your best. What am I missing? How will I take the feedback that someone gives me?”
Writers should always be on a learning journey, Melton said. “You can always get better.”
You can watch the playback on LinkedIn.