LA GRANDE — The opportunity to return home proved too much for The Observer editor Phil Wright to ignore.

Wright is returning to Pendleton to take over as news editor at the East Oregonian, beginning Monday, May 24. Wright replaces Wyatt Haupt, who left to become editor of The Daily World, in Aberdeen, Washington.

“I was not expecting this opportunity, so when it came my way I was surprised, sure,” Wright said. “But then I gave it careful scrutiny over a couple weeks. While I’m returning to the EO, the coronavirus pandemic has reshaped the newsroom I left. This really is a new challenge for me.”

Wright returns to Pendleton after 18 months as editor of The Observer. Prior to La Grande, Wright had been a reporter for the East Oregonian for nearly 15 years, covering Umatilla County government, public safety and courts.

Wright said leaving Union County was a decision he wrestled with once the offer was made, but the opportunity to return to the newsroom he spent the bulk of his career in was too much to ignore.

“To paraphrase a certain action movie, I have a particular set of skills, and I honed those to a greater degree at The Observer,” he said. “The newspaper and the crew in La Grande mean a great deal to me not just because of the work or the experience I gained there, but really because of the people and what we were building together. Now I get to put all this to the test again.”

When Wright was hired in November 2019, The Observer newsroom had been without an editor since March 2019. The Observer publisher Karrine Brogoitti said Wright helped bring some much-needed stability to the newsroom.

“Phil came to us when we really needed a leader,” she said. “He hit the ground running and hasn’t had the opportunity to take a breather since that first day. It’s one thing to take on a new leadership role, but it’s a completely different game to take on that role and then navigate the landscape of covering a pandemic and what that means for the community you serve and your staff. It was a lot for everyone, but he certainly thrived under the pressure.”

Andrew Cutler will fill in as editor in La Grande on an interim basis. Cutler, who is the publisher/editor of the East Oregonian and the regional editorial director of EO Media Group’s eastside publications, served as editor in La Grande from 2012 until 2017. He also served as the paper’s publisher from 2015 until leaving.

“Having Andrew help out during this interim period is something that I’m certainly looking forward to,” Brogoitti said. “I have a lot of respect for Andrew as an editor, and I’m glad he was willing to step in and help. He’s been an ‘honorary’ member of The Observer family and the entire staff is excited to have him back.”

Cutler said he’s happy to be able to help out in La Grande during the transition.

“Some of my happiest times professionally have occurred at The Observer,” he said. “To be able to come back and help out — even in some small minor way — is something I’m always more than happy to do.”

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