For the first time in its 126-year history, The Arizona Republic endorsed the democratic candidate for president. The editorial board’s decision elicited some angry reactions directed at some of the paper’s staffers and leaders, including its first-year publisher and president Mi-Ai Parrish. Fortunately, leading through tough times is encoded in her DNA.
During October’s Professional Women’s Alliance, Parrish shared insight into her career, her inspiration to persevere and the role of the press in a free society.
Parrish, a two-time Pulitzer Prize juror, rose through the ranks in various newsrooms prior to landing in the top position at the Republic, the largest non-national newspaper in the USA Today Network.
Her career has included stops at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Sun-Times, Virginian-Pilot and the Idaho Statesman. Immediately prior to leading the Republic, she served as president and publisher of the Kansas City Star Media Co.
Despite her long, award-winning journalism career covering big stories in several large markets, Parrish was shocked at the vitriol directed at her and Republic staffers after announcing the tradition-breaking decision of endorsing Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.
“The intensity of threats of violence, surprises me most,” Parrish said. “The idea that people would terrorize a person for doing their job, in a democracy, that’s what shocks me.”
Parrish revealed that she keeps a several-decades old picture on her desk of four young girls. The photo, which has special significance, captures that last moments of innocence for these sisters, whose lives and family would be torn apart during a Japanese occupation of their Manchurian village. It would be their last picture together for more than 60 years.
Their father was arrested for preaching. The two older girls in the photo along with their mother, baby brother and aunts went into hiding in Manchuria, leaving behind the two youngest girls in the photo. Neighbors who had promised to care for the young girls ended up sending them away from the area via train, hoping they would someday be reunited with their family.
Despite her own fears, the older of the two young girls on the train reminded her sister to be brave and carry on.
The four sisters would eventually wind up in the United States and earn degrees from American universities. The oldest girl on the train earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry, later becoming Parrish’s mother.
Parrish’s desk photo of her mother and her aunts staring back innocently at her as children serves as a continuing source of inspiration to persevere and a reminder that circumstances can change in the blink of an eye. Even in grim situations, there is no other choice but to move forward.
“Difficult doesn’t mean impossible,” Parrish said.
For someone who has made their career in journalism, there is plenty of difficulty to be found.
During this year’s presidential election, the role of the media has come under intense scrutiny. Allegations of bias seem like a daily occurrence. Like many journalists, Parrish views the role of the free press as critical in serving as the public’s voice, holding those in government accountable for their actions.
“Freedom of the press is vital in democracy,” Parrish said.
-Written by Alexie Chavez, marketing coordinator.
The next Professional Women’s Alliance luncheon will be on Tuesday, Nov. 8 featuring former Ambassador to Finland, Barbara Barrett. Barrett will share insight into her career and talk about the legendary female leaders in Arizona. Register today!