I never set out to be a newspaper reporter, but then I built a career in journalism as a reporter for the East Oregonian.

I didn’t set out to be an editor. But a couple of years ago I was growing a bit weary of rushing to the next terrible car crash, house fire or worse. Circumstances in life and my career aligned, and the EO Media Group in late 2019 presented me with the opportunity to be the editor of The Observer in La Grande.

I did not just jump at the offer. I had to give it a good think and talk it over with people I trust. One question I got: Did I really want to be working as a reporter for the next 20 years?

I found the answer was no. So I left the EO for the new gig.

That was a turbulent ride of about 18 months for a lot of reasons, and having a bloody pandemic didn’t help. While that was hard work, my time at The Observer helped me hone skills outside of just reporting.

My friend and colleague, EO reporter Antonio Sierra, asked me some time ago, I don’t recall just when, if I ever gave thought to being an editor at the EO.

Rather than being the editor of the East Oregonian, I was far more interested in helming the newsroom.

I was fortunate as a reporter to work with some solid editors who oversaw the news content. The best who sat in the newsroom’s center desk coached me and other reporters, guiding us to produce deeper coverage and more meaningful news. That job appealed to me.

So in May, East Oregonian editor and publisher Andrew Cutler asked me to meet for breakfast. The EO’s news editor was leaving, and Andrew wrote a new job description for the post. He asked me to read it over, but with me in mind.

There were a lot of bullet points on that document, but it boiled down to working with East Oregonian reporters to develop stories and features. I had a couple of weeks to think about coming back to the place I started in reporting, but this time as its news editor.

I sussed out the pros and cons and found taking the center desk had been tugging at me a long time. I also often agree with Andrew on the direction of news, and when we don’t, he listens to my differences. So here I am.

This is not the EO as I left it, but then, what places are like they were in 2019? Two years that seem like a decade ago. Our reporters have been working remotely for more than a year. We still meet via video. Our news staff is smaller now and also younger.

Those are challenges, sure, and I’m in a transition to this role, but I already feel more like a teacher or coach, and I dig that.

I dig, too, the enthusiasm I see in this newsroom. This bunch is dedicated and hungry. They want to report local news that matters. My role is to help them do that better, and I relish that.

And taking the center desk here, at the hometown paper where I earned my bones in this field? Yeah, that’s about as good a homecoming as a guy can hope for.

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Phil Wright is the news editor of the East Oregonian.

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