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Meet Paul Szoldra, The New Editor In Chief Of Task & Purpose
Paul Szoldra first started as a columnist at Task & Purpose. Now, as of October 2018, he's the site's editor-in-chief.
So who is he? He's a Marine infantry veteran who served for eight years after 9/11 — everywhere from Okinawa to Afghanistan. From there, he went to college on the GI Bill and began his journalism career at Business Insider. And he's also known for founding Duffel Blog and for helping get We Are The Mighty off the ground.
But how does he approach his job at Task & Purpose? And where does he see the site going forward?
ScoutComms decided to find out.
ScoutComms: How have your life experiences informed your role as Task & Purpose’s editor-in-chief?
Paul Szoldra: The reason I got into journalism comes from a journalism mess-up that I witnessed firsthand. I was at Jalalabad Airfield in Afghanistan when Newsweek published a story in May 2005 about guards at Guantanamo Bay placing the Quran on the toilet. This set off protests and riots around the Muslim world, including Afghanistan. At Jalalabad I could see burning tires outside the gates and you could hear people screaming, and we were told to be prepared for a direct attack on our base. To my knowledge, all of the Marines were told that we couldn’t go outside the gate.
Fortunately, nothing happened directly to us but I read a news story later that evening that was on Fox News, and it quoted somebody from Afghanistan saying that three civilians were shot and killed during a protest outside of Jalalabad Airport, and they said that U.S. Marines had opened fired on the crowd. I was reading that, and I was there and I know exactly what happened, and I thought, “There’s no way a Marine shot those people because I am those Marines.” I just remember being so upset by the Newsweek story that turned out to be false, and furthermore by the supposed allegation on Marines that fired into the crowd, which also proved to be untrue.
That taught me that journalism — especially when it comes to national security — can have serious consequences in the real world. I took that lesson with me as I became a reporter and editor, and I always consider how the news can ultimately affect the junior enlisted on the ground. That was kind of the experience that taught me that this is tough work and made me want to learn it, to understand it, and ultimately to get those stories right and get them told accurately.
SC: What makes Task & Purpose particularly unique in the military media space?
PS: I think that Task & Purpose is at its roots a scrappy military blog, comprised primarily of ex-military types turned journalists, and I find that to be very valuable.
It gives us an incredible perspective into the military and how the military operates. It gives us insight and access to sources who wouldn’t talk to other people but are happy to talk to us. There are a lot of great military journalists out there and there are good military-focused publications out there doing similar work to Task & Purpose.
But I feel very strongly that Task & Purpose is one of the most well-positioned military news websites in the space. We have a team that punches up often and well above its weight. We’re super-fast in getting stories out that we think are important, and we also have organizational focus on telling the stories that are not necessarily “general X says something” stories.
I always ask my guys when they are writing or pitching a story, does a specialist in the Army or lance corporal in the Marine Corps care about this story? We’re focused on covering the active duty military space and the younger veteran crowd.
SC: What has changed for you in going from being a reporter to being an editor?
PS: I don’t think anything has changed. We’re a small team, so I am in more of a player/coach kind of role. I’m reporting and editing, and throwing out tips to my journalists. If they aren’t totally 100% on something, I will reach out to my sources and try to help them get the answer.
There’s not an editor/reporter wall; we just work together to get the stories told in an accurate and expeditious manner.
SC: Do you think you have an editorial philosophy?
PS: My editorial philosophy is to find and tell the stories that actually matter — that are actually going to move the ball down the playing field. I don’t want to focus on the larger things and miss the smaller things that are much more important. I have a quote from C.J. Chivers of The New York Times on my monitor and I look at it regularly.
If you want to boil down my editorial philosophy, it kind of encompasses this quote: “We’ve all faced editors who make clear that a story of what befalls one human being, particular of low station, is not news, and then been asked to cover 'principles' or the like. This urge to know the top and shrug at (the human beings at) the bottom is how we miss the wars.”
SC: What are your favorite Task & Purpose stories?
PS: A couple of stories stick out to me from recent memory, and they’re not totally crazy serious ones.
“That was really funny that James got him to open up like that.”
“It was devastating. A day or two later the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund cancelled the project.”
“His headline was excellent framing. It shows there’s a mix at Task & Purpose between the serious and the fun. I categorize it as stories that people need to know and what people want to know.”
SC: Why should companies be hiring and marketing to veterans?
PS: Veterans are an incredibly valuable demographic to advertisers, employers, you name it. It’s not surprising that there are all these veteran jobs, hiring initiatives, and nonprofits dedicated to helping veterans.
The bottom line is that veterans make great employees because we know how to get the job done and we’re all about mission accomplishment. I think veterans are valuable in the workplace, and more companies should be looking into hiring them if they are not already doing so. As far as Task & Purpose, that’s our audience that we built and that’s who we really try to go and win over every single day.
Top officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs declined to step in to try to exempt veterans and their families from a new immigration rule that would make it far easier to deny green cards to low-income immigrants, according to documents obtained by ProPublica under a Freedom of Information Act request.
The Department of Defense, on the other hand, worked throughout 2018 to minimize the new policy's impact on military families.
As a result, the regulation, which goes into effect in October, applies just as strictly to veterans and their families as it does to the broader public, while active-duty members of the military and reserve forces face a relaxed version of the rule.
The soldier who was arrested for taking an armored personnel carrier on a slow-speed police chase through Virginia has been found not guilty by reason of insanity on two charges, according to The Richmond-Times Dispatch.
Joshua Phillip Yabut, 30, entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle — in this case, a 12-ton APC taken from Fort Pickett in June 2018 — and violating the terms of his bond, which stemmed from a trip to Iraq he took in March 2019 (which was not a military deployment).
In the aftermath of the ISIS suicide bombing at a wedding reception on in Afghanistan that left 63 people dead on Saturday night, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani marked the nation's 100th independence celebration with a solemn vow to "eliminate" the terror group's strongholds across the country.
"We will take revenge for every civilian drop of blood," Ghani declared. "Our struggle will continue against (ISIS), we will take revenge and will root them out."
That might prove difficult. Six month after President Donald Trump declared victory over the ISIS "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria, the terror group continues to mount a bloody comeback across the Middle East — and Afghanistan is no exception.
A career Fort Worth defense contractor who spent time in prison for lying to the government is in trouble again for similar conduct, which investigators say could have compromised troop safety and led to the disclosure of U.S. technology secrets to foreign governments.
Ross Hyde, 63, has been charged in federal court with making false claims about the type of aluminum he provided under a contract for aircraft landing gear, court records show. He faces up to five years in prison, if convicted.
Hyde, a machinist, has said in court documents that he's worked in the industry all his life. His latest company, Vista Machining Co., has supplied the Pentagon with parts for tanks, aircraft and other military equipment — mostly hardware and machined metals — since 2008. But inspectors said many of his products were cheap replacements, some illegally obtained from China, which he tried to hide from the government.
It's been more than a week since a mysterious Russian nuclear accident roughly 600 miles north of Moscow and only the Kremlin and those killed know what happened.
What is known is something exploded on Aug. 8 at a naval weapons testing range near the village of Nyonoksa. The Russian government's official account of the accident has changed several times since then, but the country's weather agency recently confirmed that radiation levels jumped to 16 times greater than normal after the blast.
U.S. media outlets have reported that a nuclear-powered cruise missile named the SSX-C-9 Skyfall likely exploded during testing. President Donald Trump appeared to confirm as much when he tweeted on Aug. 12 that the United States had gleaned useful information from "the failed missile explosion in Russia."