Saying goodbye to a great journalist

By Observer editorial June 11, 2014 09:02 am

A fact of life about the small town newspaper business, and probably any business, is change is inevitable. 

Change has come to the Observer this week with the departure of longtime photographer Phil Bullock, whose last day at the paper was Tuesday. 

For myself and many others in the newsroom and throughout the rest of the building, though, not seeing Phil at the La Grande Observer every morning will take some getting used to.

Phil is a member of a vanishing breed of newsmen and women who’ve seemingly been around forever and have literally seen it all. 

There is no way I can accurately convey how valuable that kind of knowledge, that know-how is to anyone either just starting out or beginning to make his or her way into this business.

Phil had, indeed, seen it all. From “man bites dog” type of stories to more important and controversial elements of the Grande Ronde Valley, Phil watched the news dial turn in Northeast Oregon for more than 26 years.

Phil always demonstrated he was a professional and that he could quickly exceed expectations. He never recoiled from a photo assignment, and his photos always captured the moment. And, in the end, that’s the best compliment, I believe, you can pay a photographer.

In short, Phil had proven to be one of my most reliable staffers, someone I could count on to get the job done and done in an accurate fashion.

Phil carries a virtual encyclopedia of local knowledge around in his brain, something being plugged in to an area for 26 years will do. Often, when someone would ask me a difficult question about an event that happened in, say, 1995, I could only shrug and say, “Ask Phil. He’ll know.” And more often than not he would. 

While there is no doubt Phil will be best remembered for his time here at the Observer for his photos, he did more than that. He also designed pages,
designed the covers for Go! magazine and helped out with the design of special sections. It will be near impossible to find someone with that kind of versatility. 

Even though I arrived at what ultimately wound up being the tail end of Phil’s time here, he always fulfilled my expectations and was a key piece to the overall news machine that makes us successful.

When it came to making news judgements, I would often turn to Phil for his thoughts on situations. For example, how to best cover situation A or handle situation B, and so on.

The advice was usually presented quickly and to the point. Phil does not often mince words, which, in our environment, is a good thing.

Essentially, every newsroom needs someone like Phil who can provide a needed link with the rich heritage of the newspaper but who is also ambitious and forthright in his own area of expertise, and this paper has had people who fit the bill for quite some time. 

The Observer has been lucky to have great newsmen like Phil, Ted Kramer and Bill Rautenstrauch through the years, and, fortunately, we still have seasoned newspaper veterans like Jeff Petersen, Chris Baxter and Dick Mason to go with eager, younger reporters like Katy Nesbitt, Kelly Ducote, Josh Benham and Eric Avissar. You certainly cannot make up for the loss of institutional knowledge that guys like Phil bring to the table, but the knowledge he’s passed on to his colleagues will be invaluable.

There is no doubt, Phil has earned the rest and the break from the daily grind the newspaper business can often be. There is also no doubt, Phil Bullock will be missed by those of us still here inside The Observer. 

Contact Andrew Cutler at 541-963-3161 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Follow Andrew on Twitter @lgoCutler.