Wall Street Journal: “War Torn: An Iraq War Veteran’s Story”


You know, PTSD, yeah, it sucks and it limits my life and it stops me from going out and enjoying certain things. But I want to go back so bad. It broke my heart that I got out the Marine Corps, that I was medically discharged. It broke my heart.

– Ian Welch




Michael M. Phillips

Photos, Audio, Video: 

Brandon Thibodeaux

Update: On the student paper resignations

(Note: I did work at The Maneater. But this is an unbiased — as actively and consciously unbiased as possible — post about the recent events there and across the country. I write this as a student journalist, because I think it’s too important not to write about and is a good way to open up discourse and transparency within our journalism here.)

I’m taking a break from my writing to post something about the recent developments for college newspapers.

There’s been a surge in student newspaper resignations across the country stemming from reasons including inaccurate information, misleading information and more recently, inappropriate humor. There was the resignation at The Daily Free Press because of the paper’s disregard over the impact of their April Fool’s edition that trivialized rape especially after several related events had occurred earlier in the year. There was the resignation of an editor at The Daily Iowan. A while ago, there was the resignation of the managing editor at Onward State for a faulty tweet. Now, the razing of the Maneater’s April Fool’s edition that had an inappropriate LGBTQ slur as the masthead as well as other offensive remarks throughout the issue has wreaked havoc within the newsroom.

What does this all mean?

There’s a lot behind it. Perhaps a lack of oversight at the papers, perhaps ignorance, perhaps a tendency to post information as soon as possible — without verification.

The thing with the Maneater debacle is that this apology letter shouldn’t have been written in the first place. What should have happened was a re-assessment of the impact of an April Fool’s Day issue of the newspaper. There should have been a better thought process by the few people involved in the error. I’ve spoken to many of my friends about this. There are plenty of ways to be humorous — even searing — without resorting to lowly derogatory comments. Just because they’re young and hip, doesn’t mean they had to go full-blown Adult Swim on the front cover of the newspaper.  We don’t have to degrade ourselves to meet some unwritten standard of humor. A newspaper is a newspaper. Although our definition of journalism is changing, our adherence to its values should not.

Call me a grandma, but I just simply can’t get behind the idea of an April Fool’s issue. What’s the point? I understand, it’s funny. But do something else. Make a comedy section. Heck, make an entirely separate comedic news source. But once you blur the lines between what is news and what is satire, especially when the newspaper itself is wrapped literally in this farce, how can you expect readers to differentiate between it themselves?

And let’s just focus on one word — “newspaper.” This was an ‘egregious’ error not only because was it just poorly thought out (or not thought out), but because it breaks the basic rules of what we as young journalists are learning and striving for, those rules that are instilled into us every week in Gannett and Lee Hills: fact-checking, context, proportionality, truth, awareness of our readers, devotion to our readers, fairness. If we digress from our own rules, then it will only become easier for the public to become skeptical about our role.

I’m not writing this post to attack The Maneater or its editorial board. I just think this is too important of an issue to not discuss. I also don’t want to wish ill upon the former Maneater editors. But I do believe that their actions are the best to take in a situation like this. Although, I don’t think that a complete withdrawal from journalism should be the immediate response.

Sidebar: I also disagree with the disciplinary action the university is reactively taking. It’s extreme, unnecessary and tiptoeing around very volatile territory for a student publication’s rights. These editors have been through hell and back, and it’s not over yet. But deliberately ruining them is not, in my opinion, the mature reaction at all.

We live and we learn, and this just happens to be one of these learning moments that happens to be relentlessly burning in the spotlight of criticism. But I do believe it will help the newspaper grow stronger and help everyone involved learn important lessons that really, truly may not have been learned had this not happened.

Some people have used these unfortunate events to say that journalism today is so easily compromised and held to a lower standard. Others have defended the papers and the editors, saying that they should be forgiven. I think that both of these claims have some truths to them. I also have to admit that, as my ethos and pathos tells me to, I have to sympathize for these editors. They’re going through a strife that a lot of us won’t understand. They do need forgiveness. Because, after all, they did make mistakes. But we all have done the same (although maybe not to the same scale).

“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.”
― Elbert Hubbard

But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be held accountable. They should. As a community, we need to hold them accountable for their actions. We also need to, as a community of journalists, hold ourselves accountable. Because what one man (or woman) does in our crowded profession will undeniably affect others. So while we must take responsibilities for our individual actions, we should also keep an eye out and an ear open as a cohesive unit so that we can continue to function. People see us as an entity, so we should do that as well.

I also do think it is concerning that this dire situation is the only thing that really motivated the paper to take direct action against itself. I can’t fail to mention that there have been other apologies this semester for debatably poorly executed and thought-out editorial sections. It’s just such a shame that this had to happen to initiate the change.

Student papers often lament about not being taken seriously by readers. But if they want to be taken seriously and be treated as professionals, they need to act like them. This must happen in the newspaper itself, but also within the newsroom.

But overall, I think this is a learning experience for everyone. It’s a chance for the newspaper to change. It’s a chance for the former editors to think about what happened, and what will happen now. It’s also a chance for us, as outsiders, to learn what happened, to become part of the conversation and — gasp — to forgive, at least eventually. The consequences will be bad. But we should not be so quick to bring out the pitchforks.

This is also a good chance to reflect on our society, and more specifically my generation and my generation of journalists, as a whole. We’ve become a very attack-prone, negative, “insta-everything” (a phrase I like so much I took it from the NYTimes; forgive me!) generation and it’s perpetuated by the internet and our often stubborn perceptions of people. We make fun of each other. We make fun of strangers. It’s become insensitive and unsympathetic, our humor. And often, it’s hard to separate this humor and our critiques from how we present ourselves. But as our Twitter and Facebook profiles become intertwined with our professional life and we combat with “being ourselves” and still being respectable professionals, we’ve gotten into the habit of feeling entitled and being selfish about what we’re really doing and what consequences — and public opinion — could result from our actions.

Yes, you can technically tweet about whatever you want. Sure, you can post that crude article from Cracked.com. But you can also refrain from doing that, too. I think the plague of “instant gratification” my generation finds itself coming back to over and over again can really just stem back to both an ignorance about consequence and a selfishness, which is both innate and learned. And let’s not forget that way too many people still say “gay” to mean “dumb.” It’s just…lazy.

Yes, April Fool’s editions are funny. So is that tweet that you want to send about a boring event you’re covering. So is that mean comment you really, really want to say (and don’t lie…you know we all think these things.) about your ex and his/her bad hair day.

But it’s this lack of restraint that is maybe a big reason why these events happen and also why people still are so quick to hound on journalism.

Sometimes we need to refrain from the betrayal that comes from our quick-moving minds and quick-typing fingers. We’ve become too greedy over becoming the most shocking and we’ve become too accepting of extremity and we’re losing regard for ourselves as a community and as a profession that’s always under scrutiny. We too, therefore, are at fault.

I’m not saying that we should resort to inaction. Rather, I’m saying that through our action, we should consider the difficult option of restraint. Sometimes it takes more action to restrain ourselves than from instinctively reacting. And that’s an action that the editors, and also my generation — as journalists and people in general — need to hone. Because otherwise, we’ll just keep shooting ourselves in the foot. Because otherwise, we risk losing the respect of our superiors and also the ability to respect one another.

Phone calls and easter eggs

It’s about 9:15 and Allie and I are in the newsroom as she puts together the school board meeting story from this evening. (Is it weird that I thought about the “It’s 3:00 in the morning” commercial re-reading that and chuckled? Successful ad campaign, Hillary.) Allie’s a really good reporter, and she’s very detail-oriented. I really admire that in her. And she’s a sunbeam, too. I feel creepy writing this as I sit next to her. But hey, apparently I’m a sassy house cat and I can do what I want. I like this.

My last few days were nice, and I got to go on a spontaneous sojourn to Marshfield, Mo., a small town outside of Springfield, with my friend for Easter Sunday. It was a great time, especially because I got to spend some time with some great people (and I got some good food too). And not to mention, I got to indulge my neglected inner Episcopalian for a moment. I always get sad on Easter or other holidays where everyone seems to vanish and gallivant away to their families for a few days. Hey, if I could do that, I would. But that’s a big part of the reason why I decided to come here. Because I’m not near my family, I’ve gotta put myself out on a limb sometimes. And other times, people take me under their wing without my asking or even thinking.

I’ve gotten into a few hefty conversations lately, and it kind of runs in the same thread of how I’ve noticed my life perspective changing so frequently. Journalism has really made me into an observant person, and in that light, I’ve also become very pensive. I’ve become more selective — or maybe selective isn’t the right word, perhaps “attentive” is better — about the people I choose to surround myself with. I’m a very reflective person, internally and externally. I transform to my surroundings. Like a chameleon. I guess you could call me a sassy house chameleon, too. (Are there house chameleons? Do people have them as pets? That’d be fantastic.)

There is a solid group of people in my life that I truly care about. And while that number may be small, I try to embrace these relationships to the fullest extent because they mean so much to me. Sometimes I fail, and I’m a bad friend. Sometimes I’m neglectful, sometimes I’m resigned, sometimes I just want to be alone with a book on war and a cafe au lait. But I’ve been trying very hard for the past few years to make my life filled with as much optimism and open-mindedness as possible. I come from a family that’s very hot-blooded, but one that is also very close. I just hope I’m cared for as well. And maybe I’ll never know the extent of the care I’m receiving. But if I give enough out to the right people, I feel like it’s bound to come full circle.

It’s like reporting, I suppose. You don’t go halfway on a story. You research, you call sources, you outline, you write, you draft, you re-write, you re-draft, you edit, and probably go through more drafts. And that’s not including the photos and graphics (which are equally as important, lest we reporters forget). It’s about truth and fact-checking and being a messenger for the masses. But moreover, I think it’s about humanity itself. And if I can contribute a little bit to humanity and tell a story about its intricacies and conflicts, I can most assuredly contribute to humanity in every other moment. Being a reporter doesn’t mean I have to turn it off when I go home. I need to be accurate, to want to strive for the truth, to talk to the right people, cover all the angles, and simply, tell the story. And I need to be open to the stories in my own life and in my relationships.

So many gods, so many creeds;
So many paths that wind and wind,

While just the art of being kind
Is all the sad world needs.

– Ella Wheeler Wilcox

The results

It’s after the election, and now that I’m back in my room, arching over in exhaustion, I’m happy to say today was very positive. It’s almost like a 180-degree turn from my mindset yesterday. It’s been a very, very reassuring day.

Our final election coverage is published!

After several hours and watch parties later, we’ve got some great stuff from the results.

Christine King, the incumbent, and Paul Cushing, the newly elected IT coordinator, grabbed the two open school board seats by garnering 42 and 21 percent, respectively. I’ve done other coverage on Paul Cushing over the campaign, and I don’t think I’d be lying when I say that the night unveiled very unexpected events. I had a great time spending a few hours with Cushing and his supporters as the results were being collected, and seeing the raw emotion on people’s faces as the last round of votes were counted and declared Cushing as the winner was priceless.

Elections are a very fun time, and I got to experience that tonight, even if it was for only a few hours, directly. We’ve been doing a lot of work up until this point, and I think tonight was a success for our reporting. We had great photographers, and our communication was great. We also turned around the piece really quickly (super kudos to Shaina).

I’m not sure what this means now, but I know that the path that has lead us to this point has been full of lessons and laughs. (I sound cheesy. I know. Bear with me.) I really think that the other reporters Allie and Nicole and I, as well as our awesome editor Shaina, really cranked out some great work for this. It’s pertinent to our community, and we tapped into the vein of local government and education and gave it to our readers in a successful way.

But hey, it’s up to the community in the end to respond to our work. I hope we’ve pleased our readership. But what I do know is the hard work that went into it all, and that’s worth something by itself.

(And by the way, happy early birthday to our fantastic, wonderful and superb editor Liz. You da best.)

Election 2012 (of the school board breed)

It’s about an hour and a half away from the school board elections here in Columbia, and the education reporters are sitting in the newsroom with bated breath and impatience.

(Well, not quite…but we’re still excited!)

It may not seem like a big deal, but I really do think that local elections like this are very important to cover to gain experience but are also pretty good for keeping our local life functioning. I’m glad I was one of the reporters who go to cover the election. I obviously can’t advocate one way or another, but in the end, I think we’ve all learned lessons — reporters and candidates alike. I know there has been some shifts in thoughts and platforms, and I can definitely defend the point that this coverage has helped Allie, Nicole and I (and Margaux!) learn a lot. We’ve developed some rapport with the candidates and it’s been a great ride.

Only the voters will determine who will be elected tonight, but we at least know that we’ll be there to cover it all. Stay tuned!

(Here’s the Missourian’s voters’ guide for the election.)

Aside from the election, the past 24 hours have been quite a rollercoaster for me. I won’t go into a long-winded rant (I’m trying to actively trim my verbosity’s hedges of excess) about it, but I’ve already faced a couple minor challenges. I suppose it’s the fact that everything was kind of thrown at me on Monday after a relatively calm (but not uneventful) weekend. But I don’t feel like that’s a good excuse. I can’t deny that I’ve been spreading myself pretty thin this semester. I definitely have. It’s just that I’m so used to doing that. I’m ambitious (or perhaps overambitious) and because of this, my body and psyche can sometimes fall behind my brain’s tenacity.

It’s just that I want to embrace every moment while I’m here. But I think something I’ve got to come to terms with is that I don’t have to do everything that I want to at once. There’s time. I wouldn’t say I’m a rash person, but I can get very passionate and very into the things I love, and then I realize at certain moments the speed in which I live my life, and I get a little hesitant.

Sometimes I just need to slow down and breathe. I’ve put a lot on the back burner this semester to focus on the Missourian, my part-time job and my interests. Maybe I need to figure out some time in my day where I do yoga or at least sit in my room with the lights off (trust me…it works) to help me keep everything in perspective.

Right now, I’m about to go to a watch party for the school board election. I’ve done well on a couple tests I got back today, I’ve got some great opportunities coming up for me, I’ve figured out my class schedule for the fall, and moreover, I’ve got a lot of people around me who support me. Sometimes I get distracted from that. I need to appreciate the little moments of my life, and sometimes that means I’ve just gotta slow down. The people in my life are very patient with and very supportive of me. And I want them to know that.

We’re heading into the final stretch now, and I’ve gotta pull out all the right cards. It’ll be a crazy next five (or six?) weeks, but I’m sure I can do it. I’ve just gotta stay positive and keep chuggin’ along! Not chuggin’. Sprintin’.

Also, I forgot to write about my articles that were published over spring break!

The first is a collaborative piece I did with a couple other reporters (who are great reporters, by the way). The other is a profile I’ve been working on for a while. I’m glad it finally published.