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Margaret Johnson '00: Creating a Vital Digital Platform for Millennial Moms
Posted 02/13/2017 10:05AM

By Hannagan Johnson '04

While a sixth grade student in Mrs. Mattesky's grammar class, Margaret Johnson '00 experienced what was something of a seminal moment for her eventual career in journalism. "Mrs. Mattesky reserved a section of the white board for displaying exemplary pieces of student writing," Margaret recalls. Those of us who have had the privilege to be students of Mrs. Mattesky may recollect how we were frequently assigned the ambitious task of producing a piece of writing that mirrored the style of the authors we were reading. Margaret remembers presenting her essay, attempting to emulate the style of Irene Hunt's Up a Road Slowly, with great anxiety because she so desperately wanted her writing to be selected for display. Margaret laughs as she fondly recalls Mrs. Mattesky reading her essay, staring at her for a moment and stating in her loving but uniquely matter-of-fact way, "Margaret, one day you are going to be up on that board. Today is not that day."

Though she may have been disappointed at that moment, Margaret considers the unconditional standards of excellence that Mrs. Mattesky and the rest of our extraordinary educators held us to throughout our years at Sacred Heart to be hugely influential in her career, which has a lot to do with recognizing and elevating great writing by women. After serving as a women's editor for two years at the Huffington Post and then as the managing editor of Bustle, the now-ubiquitous site for young women, Margaret launched Bustle's sister site Romper, a website whose aim is to appeal to millennials with kids by covering the latest news and trends in a way that celebrates the reality of motherhood rather than the various fictions we've developed around it. As Margaret describes Romper, "It's general interest, but its goal is to appeal to a broad spectrum of young women with kids. That means thinking as inclusively as possible. Attention to diversity is paramount."

This generation of young families looks very different from any previous, not just racially but also in terms of composition: there are more single-parent families, more racially mixed families, more families with two mothers or two fathers. Margaret says that Romper's goal is to reach and represent all of those different permutations of young family, all of those different ways of building a life. It's the type of site that, prior to Romper's inception, didn't really exist. As Margaret shared with the New Yorker around the time of Romper's launch in November of 2015, "The media talks about millennials as if they are kids, and actually, they are having kids."

Inherent to its digital nature, the volume and pace of Romper is massive. In her role as managing editor, Margaret oversees the site's editing team, who in turn supervise the hundreds of articles that the website produces on a weekly basis. Margaret describes her typical day in the office as staying on top of the news—the site offers 24/7 news and entertainment coverage because "women with kids are interested in more than their kids"—as well as editing and strategizing with her team to ensure the site's continued forward outlook and broad appeal to an extensive readership of mothers. And though it demands always having an eye on both media trends and parenting issues, Margaret's role, at its core, ultimately revolves around the art of writing.

As far back as I can remember, Margaret has had a deep love of writing, a passion that was first nurtured and developed at Sacred Heart, then Princeton University, and finally at NYU's Cultural Reporting and Criticism master's program. "I always felt just as prepared a writer as anyone else while at Princeton and in my master's program," Margaret shares. "Sacred Heart put me on the same footing as graduates from Exeter, Harvard-Westlake, Thomas Jefferson in D.C. and any other top high school anywhere in the country."

Her current position demands constant innovation as well as a deep commitment to the idea that women's stories matter, and Margaret attributes both to the influence of our Sacred Heart teachers. "Our educators were willing to take risks and constantly demonstrated such a genuine passion for what we were learning," she recalls. "It was through that passion that I came to understand the power and beauty of language, especially, and the way narrative helps us access the extraordinary in our otherwise ordinary lives."

And there is yet another significant way in which our Sacred Heart experience continues to influence Margaret's daily life. Working in such a fast-paced field as digital journalism can perhaps explain a recurring nightmare Margaret has anytime a major deadline approaches. "I'm not kidding, this is the nightmare: I'm walking through the front gates, it's September 25th, and I suddenly realize I haven't picked my oratory piece." No matter where life takes us, our Sacred Heart education never leaves us.

Above Left: Margaret with her sister Hannagan '04 at Sacred Heart Prize Day n 2004. Both sisters were named salutatorian of their respective Sacred Heart classes.
Above Right: Margaret with her Bustle colleagues at a holiday party

- The Bridge, Winter 2017

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