Auburn University journalism lecturer Phillip Rawls wrote his own life story stemming from just a small town in Gantt, Alabama.
As a child, Rawls was more engaged in the news than any other teenagers he knew at the time. Rawls had been involved in his high school newspaper since the 10th grade. He worked his way up to being senior editor by the time of his graduation.
On top of his responsibilities with the high school newspaper, Rawls was highly involved with the layout and design of the high school yearbook as well. But over time, he became more passionate about news and journalism.
“I always enjoyed reading the newspaper, magazines and watching the news on television,” Rawls said. “That is when I became interested in the news world.”
As he began his education at The University of Alabama, Rawls was certain he wanted to major in journalism but was unsure when it came to where he wanted to take his career upon graduation —at least until he started reading The Birmingham News and the Montgomery Advertiser.
“I did not know if I was going to go into journalism and go right to work or if I wanted to go to law school after,” Rawls said. “I decided I wanted to do the journalism route. It seemed like, at the time, everyone was trying to go to law school, and I was never one to go with the flow.”
He always enjoyed really good feature writers.
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“There was a feature writer at The Montgomery Advertiser,” Rawls said. “His name was Buster Mcguire, and I read everything he wrote. Being exposed to those newspapers alongside the magazines and Sunday New York Times my mother had delivered to her beauty shop had an influence.”
During his time at The University of Alabama, Rawls worked for the newspaper on campus and had started working on his first story before even beginning his first freshman courses.
He was assigned a story that was going to cover the behind the scenes of the brand new multi-purpose arena, Coleman Coliseum.
The story was going to be a tell-all piece about the several features within the arena. After calling the sports information department to set up a visit, Rawls began to head over to the arena to meet with someone who was part of the staff to be given a tour.
When Rawls got there, he was introduced to head football coach and athletic director at the time, Paul “Bear” Bryant.
Bryant showed Rawls every aspect of the arena. From the locker rooms to the practice hall in the basement and the entertainment room, Rawls was on an hour-and-a-half long tour with an Alabama legend.
“He was just so gracious,” Rawls said. “When you go from writing for a high school newspaper and yearbook to interviewing Bear Bryant, not much intimidated me after that. He did me a real favor and probably never even realized it. An experience like that changed my trajectory.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Rawls decided to stick around the University of Alabama to receive his master’s in journalism.
Rawls went onto a career writing for The Atmore Advance and the Montgomery Advertiser before retiring a 35-year reporting career with the Associated Press.
During his time with AP, Rawls covered everything from sports to weather but mostly concentrated on politics and government. Rawls ended up covering seven governors during his time with AP.
After spending 35 years within the journalism industry, Rawls thought it was a good time to settle down and retire. Surely enough, he found that the retirement life was not for him.
“When you’re used to making split-second decisions in the news business and then suddenly the only decision you have to make is what day this week I was going to mow the grass, I just didn’t make that transition very well at all,” Rawls said.
A member of Auburn’s Journalism Advisory Council later contacted him about a job opening. Rawls was interested and made the decision to head back to work.
“One thing I love about working here at Auburn is the students,” Rawls said. “The students are so eager to learn and energetic. I particularly love the ones who have to work hard for everything. I always had to work hard for everything and love the ones who have to struggle a little bit as I did. I was never the smartest person in any room. So I know I’m not going to be the smartest person in the room, but I am going to be the hardest working in the room. I really enjoy the students that have that kind of philosophy.”
From a decades-long journalism career to a teaching career at Auburn University, Rawls has made an impact on campus with all of his students.
“I learned the best piece of advice as a journalist from my very first boss,” Rawls said. “Write every story as if the first person you’re going to run into the next morning at the coffee shop will be the person you wrote about, that way you will always do your best to be fair. I think that still applies.”
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