Article and photo by Valerie Osier | News Editor
Sept. 18, 2014
When he was a college student, Jim Parsons had an educational path that many students at Riverside City College can relate to.
He started fresh out of high school with the aspiration being a doctor with a degree in medicine from University of California Irvine, but after “failing miserably” in Chemistry, he decided he probably wasn’t meant to be a doctor.
He then spent a year at Fullerton Community College with various majors, ranging from psychology to physical therapy, before coming to journalism.
“I guess I had one fall back: I had always written,” Parsons said. “So after I tried a couple different majors at Fullerton … probably three or four within a year, I just decided, ‘yeah I’m probably meant to be a writer,’ so that’s what I ended up doing.”
After transferring from FCC to California State University Long Beach, Parsons went from interning to reporting for the Long Beach Press Telegram, then for the Orange County Register.
“I worked for about three years as a reporter and decided that I was a pretty good storyteller, a better writer and wouldn’t be much more than a competent reporter,” Parsons said. “I just didn’t have a passion for the daily deadline, the short format, and I ended up getting married at the same time, so that’s when I made the jump to [Public Relations].”
Parsons has always loved telling stories. He started as a young teenager writing fiction characteristic of his favorite childhood stories the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift. It wasn’t until college that he started writing literary non-fiction.
He will be retiring in December with the goal of having time to write the several books he has in his head. Parsons says the “first thing that goes is the tie and the cell phone.”
“I had a class with a journalism instructor,” Parsons said. “I turned in the assignment and it came back and the only thing he had written on it was, ‘you are a writer.’ And I thought, ‘Oh great, that’s good, nice to know.’ … But now that I think about it, since he was a newspaper guy, it might have not been a compliment.”
He still has his hand in fiction and, not divulging too many details, is currently working on a historical crime procedural set in the 1800’s San Francisco.
“What I found in PR that’s similar to reporting, is that you’re on 24/7, basically,” Parsons said. “It doesn’t matter when your shift is… So really when I’m writing, its at 10 to two in the morning.”
His first children’s fiction story he ever wrote was published in Highlights magazine with a circulation of several million and was called “The Big Toe Contest.” He has had others published, including “Counting By Numbers,” which has also been picked up by different school districts and implemented into the reading curriculum.
When he made the jump to what is commonly known in the journalistic world as “the dark side,” Parsons started out in Public Relations in a hospital in Palm Springs. He did hospital public relations and physician marketing. He was able to go into medical operations to film them as well.
“Basically, the writing you do in PR, you only have two types: you do news writing in terms of releases and you do feature writing,” Parsons said. “So I was always more towards the feature writing in terms of my inclination.”
As the Associate Vice Chancellor of Strategic Communications and Relations at RCC, Parsons is in charge of the traditional PR and marketing of the district, as well as the web development of the school. He tells the stories of different people from RCC and informs people through the RCCD website.
“What we do here is important, and its critical. And when I say we, it’s not necessarily what I do, I mean it’s what the faculty are doing, what the staff do to help students, what the students are actually doing,” Parsons said. “And what’s our role in the whole thing, it’s to tell your stories. Tell the stories of the programs, tell the stories of the students and faculty achievements and really try and convey the importance of community college in the lives of a lot of people. And why they’re important and the difference they make,”Parsons said.
Parsons has stuck to public service PR for most of his career, because marketing products didn’t appeal to him.
“I’m not sure I could sell widgets,” Parsons said. “I’ll probably offend some of my PR colleagues, but it seems kind of like an empty profession if you’re on that side of PR.”
While his education started out like many students’ at RCC, with changing majors and changing careers, he has found his passion in writing and continues to follow it wherever it leads.
“I remember when I was dating the woman who would become my wife, that… her uncle’s first comment was ‘What the heck is he going into journalism for? There’s no money and no future in that,’” Parsons said. “I think the perception is the same for journalism, writing, or any of the arts, probably. You’ll get the same advice: don’t do it. And if you have a passion for it and you’re smart, you end up doing it anyway.”