Phil Sturholm of Seattle's KING-TV Remembered as a Photojournalism Legend

Phil Sturholm

by Matt Mrozinski

Former KING-TV chief photographer and executive producer Phil Sturholm passed away at home Tuesday night, August 23.  

We reached out to several of his colleagues and friends this morning, and they are heartbroken. Sturholm was set to host a KING-TV reunion breakfast on Friday. The news of his passing is a huge blow to the people who knew and loved him, to photojournalism and storytelling as a whole.  Sturholm is a legend. He is a legend well beyond the walls of KING-TV.

“The word legend is often overused, frequently misused, but in Phil's case it perfectly applies,” said Laddy Kite, a retired KING-TV photojournalist.  “In many ways, he was the cornerstone of KING-TV.  Yes, Dorothy Bullitt founded the station and infused it with her sense of purpose and dedication to community service, but it was Phil Sturholm who hired the best visual storytellers around.  It was Phil who trained and mentored the shooters, reporters, and producers.”

For the KING photojournalists, it is hard to say that a man we’ve never met is responsible for us being here now, but in many ways it is true.  Sturholm laid the groundwork for the great photojournalism and storytelling legacy we have today.  He is largely why KING won NPPA Station of the Year in 1979, ’81, and ‘82.  Today, those plaques sit in a glass case in this newsroom.

“He had a profound effect on both his staff and the industry and essentially invented photojournalism in the Northwest,” said retired KING-TV chief photographer Steve Dowd. 

“He set the tone for the NPPA,” adds KING photojournalist Dave Wike. “He set the tone for news photography.”

Even his competitors loved and admired him.  John Larson worked at KOMO-TV during part of his era.

“Phil was a mentor to all of us, even if we worked at other stations,” said Larson.  “He was the standard bearer, the highest road. I worked at a competitor, but in truth? I cared more about what Phil thought."

Sturholm is remembered most for his compassion, both in his storytelling and his relationships.

“Phil was a big man with a delicate touch,” said Dowd.

“A generous soul, a storytelling giant. That was Phil Sturholm,” said KING reporter John Sharify. 

“He was a manager, teacher, and the team spirit,” said Linda Brill, a retired KING reporter.  “He lifted everyone and made everyone proud of each other.  If you did a good job, Phil would give you an ‘atta-boy’. Not a note in your file or a Starbucks card, but a hearty pat on the back, a big hug or throw you up in the air with a loud howl of congratulations.”

Laddy Kite added: “Often, after the 5 p.m. newscast, there would be a line of reporters and photographers outside his office door seeking his comments, advice, and encouragement on that day's journalistic efforts. He always had relevant and supportive things to say, sending each person back to work eager to do even better the next day.”

“I was among the lucky ones who heard from him regularly. He was so kind in his comments,” said Sharify.

Dave Wike still has Sturholm’s picture in his gear locker.  “Have you shot your wide shot today?”, it reads.  Phil Sturholm hired Wike, he is the reason Wike is even in the business.  “He smoked cigars and looked like he would tear your head off, but he was the nicest man you’d ever meet.”  He adds, “I wanted to send out a newsroom note today, but the screen was a little fuzzy.”

“Phil Sturholm was not only a teacher and mentor,” said retired KING photojournalist Ken Jones.  “He did teach us the technical side of journalism but also the heart. He taught us by example. What it meant to be a journalist, what it meant to represent KING TV, to care for your colleagues and to have compassion for those whose lives we touched on a daily basis.”

John Sharify said, “When the KING 5 photojournalists produced a show called 'Take a Moment,’ he wrote an email to a bunch of us: ' Wow, now that was a terrific tribute to every photog everywhere.  Just a great show guys. It's really a pleasure to know and see how far you've taken news photography.'”

“Phil was his happiest when he was working with us and having a manager like that was unbelievably empowering,” said Dowd.  “He got the best out of us by showing us how it was done and genuinely caring about us in the process.”

“It is sadly ironic that within hours of the demolishing of the KING building, the man who gave it so much of its meaning and so much of his life, has left it and us,” said Kite.  “Thank you, Phil! Fade to black.”

Matt Mrozinski is Director of Photojournalism at KING 5 in Seattle

Copyright 2016 KING