Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of alumni profiles of former Daily Lobo contributors, created in an effort to connect current readers and contributors to the past and present. Continue to follow the Daily Lobo for more.
Just one month before he was set to graduate from the University of New Mexico, Russ Parsons said he discovered he still needed six credit hours and was “schooled out.” He already had a job waiting for him and decided to leave the University in 1978.
In 1973, he had just graduated from high school and was looking for something to do over the summer, he said. He lost his job at Der Wienerschnitzel, “lasted a half a day selling vacuums” and was doing phone solicitations — but he knew he wanted to be a journalist.
So, Parsons headed to the Daily Lobo and began working as a sports reporter and also contributed to pieces about popular music.
“It was a huge break for me,” he said.
The sports editor at the Albuquerque Journal liked what Parsons was doing at the Lobo and hired him as an intern, which helped him pay for school, he said.
After leaving UNM, he was a sports reporter at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, he said. He later worked at the Albuquerque Tribune, where he was on general assignment and also covered sports, popular and classical music as well as cops and courts.
But when Parsons took a cooking class for an assignment in the early 80s, he realized that was what he really loved, he said.
He started taking cooking classes, which evolved into teaching classes and working at restaurants while also writing for the Albuquerque Tribune, he said.
In 1986, Parsons moved to Los Angeles to be the food editor and restaurant critic at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, which closed three years later. Before it closed, he started working at the Los Angeles Times as the syndicate food editor, he said.
He then worked as an editor and columnist for 26 years at the Los Angeles Times and retired about two years ago.
“(The Daily Lobo) got me started writing...When you’re a journalist, the most important thing you can have is clips,” Parsons said, adding that the publication offered flexibility to try new things.
He said there was a great staff that served as a “support system, helping each other get better at what we wanted to do...It was a great group of people to hang with. It was wonderful, because everybody was starting out, everybody was wanting to do the best that they could and everybody was supportive of each other.”
Alice Short retired from the Los Angeles Times from her most recent role at the publication, assistant managing editor. She and Parsons worked at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and officially met at the Los Angeles Times later. They worked together closely for several years, she said.
Short said Parsons is and was extremely knowledgeable, describing him as a “Renaissance guy in the world of food.”
“He’s very, very, very devoted to food journalism...both as a writer and an editor,” she said. “(He’s) organized and efficient, eager to learn new things.”
Short described him as a great colleague and friend, who she said she wishes she could still see every day.
“I’ve never been one for second guessing. I’ve had a career that far-exceeded any of my expectations, and I’d be really hesitant to change anything for fear that it wouldn’t work out so well. I never dreamed that I’d be able to work with some of the people I’ve worked with,” Parsons said, mentioning Julia Child, M.F.K. Fisher, Ruth Reichl and others.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said.
Parsons said some of his greatest accomplishments in his career include editing and working with some great writers. He also said it’s wonderful to meet people who say they used his recipes to feed their families.
Parsons’ accomplishments also include his induction into the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food and Beverage, which is the hall of fame of American cooking. When Child passed away, he wrote a piece about her, and her family read it during her funeral. Thomas Keller also asked him to work with him on his new cookbook, Parsons said.
“Having the respect of people you respect is a great honor,” he said.
When it comes to advice for aspiring journalists, Short said, “I really believe in journalism. I think there’s a place for storytelling,” but it is not done in the same way she experienced it. Instead, reporters must feel comfortable on a variety of digital platforms.
Parsons suggests that aspiring food reporters read and write a lot and have others edit their work to help them determine what sort of writing is good writing.
“It’s a tough way to make a living these days...Don’t let the nickels and dimes confuse your goal. Every good thing that happened in my career started out with me doing something either for free or doing something for very little money and doing it just because I wanted to do it,” he said.
He also shared a bit of advice that he said he gives his daughter, “Luck is when the door opens, but you have to be able to stay once you’ve walked through it.”
Elizabeth Sanchez is the editor-in-chief at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Beth_A_Sanchez.