Born in White Plains, New York, Parkinson’s family moved to Bethesda, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C., when he was five years old.
As an undergrad at Dartmouth, he was a reporter and then an editor for the college paper, and in graduate school at Harvard Business School, he was a reporter for the school’s newspaper, The Harbus.
Also a campus stringer for the New York Times and a reporter on Capitol Hill during college summers, Parkinson also took time off from school for part of the year to hitchhike around the country.
From 1966 to 1969, after a tour of duty in the U.S. Army Special Forces RVN where he earned a bronze star, Parkinson’s resume is impressive.
Named among his various posts, at the Globe and Mail, he served as publisher and chief executive officer (1994-1999), then President of the World Association of Newspapers (2000-2002). And, in 2010 he served as a Legislative Fellow, in the office of Congressman Walter Minnick.
After visiting Naples as snowbirds and renting for a couple of years – his wife liked the tennis and golf – the couple decided to purchase home in 2004.
Parkinson muses about the state of print media, his reporting room pet peeve and his best tips for breaking into reporting and editing.
NPC: What do you see for the future regarding the longevity of print media?
RP: Not good. It needs enough revenue to cover distribution, printing, paper and a high quality and high quantity news room. Classified advertising revenue has gone to the internet. The retail world has consolidated to one major department store company and big box stores which do not advertise in newspapers. The business model of the mass circulation newspaper is broken. So far there is not a successful digital business model to cover the costs of a high quality, high quantity newsroom.
NPC: What was one of your pet peeves in working with editors and reporters?
RP: I loved the editors and reporters, and I would try to spend as much time as possible schmoozing in the newsroom. As far as a pet peeve, here is one: the newsroom staff thinks they, and they alone are the keepers of the values of the newspaper; they aren’t. And, they are a small percentage of the newspaper’s staff. Often, when trying to make changes in the newsroom, they would convert the change in question to an issue of news values, usually a self-serving delusion.
NPC: Who are your favorite fiction and non-fiction authors and their book titles?
RP: I read a lot, but only non-fiction, today; I don’t have enough time to read fiction. However, one novel from my college years that was formative in my philosophy of life was “The Stranger,” by Albert Camus.
NPC: What advice would you give to someone trying to break into writing and editing?
RP: In addition to learning how to write and edit really well (pick a high quality publication where you can learn from the best), I would recommend becoming an expert on all things digital. On the business side, first pick a high quality, highly ethical company. Second, try to use the first few years to move from one department to another (advertising sales, circulation, marketing, production, finance, systems), so you can learn the whole business. These departments are often silos. If you start in one and work your way up earning more money and responsibility, pretty soon you will be too high up and making too much money to drop down and work as a beginner in another department.
J.C. Amodea is a Press Club of Southwest Florida member responsible for compiling Faces of the NPC. If you are interested in being profiled or know someone who should be featured contact Jean at JeanAmodea@gmail.com.