Mi-Ai Parrish is a young star in the newspaper publishing world, the president and publisher of one of the country's biggest newspapers.
So why is she leaving the Arizona Republic after two years in the top slot for a temporary journalism-school job that likely pays much less?
Apparently, not everyone wants to move up in the corporate media world and make millions of dollars, like her predecessor at the Republic did.
Parrish announced on Monday that she was stepping down on December 29 to take an endowed faculty position with Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She's been president and publisher of the Arizona Republic since October 2015, when she took over for former publisher John Zidich, who last month announced his upcoming retirement from his lucrative gig at the Republic's parent company, Gannett Co., Inc.
Her new job is a nine-month appointment at the j-school as Sue Clark-Johnson Professor of Media Innovation and Leadership. It pays a base annual salary of $120,000, meaning she'll collect the entire amount and get the summer off. The professorship is a newly created endowed position named after former Republic publisher Sue Clark-Johnson, who died in 2015.
The new job may represent a significant pay cut for Parrish. At the least, it diverts her from the track of high salary, bonuses, and stock options that Zidich took.
Zidich, who became president of domestic publishing and as publisher of USA Today for Gannett after leaving the Republic, reportedly earned $2.3 million or $3.5 million in 2016, according to online sources based on U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
Another online source lists salary information for Zidich since 2012, indicating that in his last few years as publisher of the Arizona Republic, he earned $429,000 to $445,000. He also had a position as CEO of Republic Media at the time, but his reported salary from 2012-2014 could be in the ballpark of what Parrish has been making there.
Her pending base salary of $120,000 at Cronkite is not much more than some midlevel editors, or top reporters, at the Republic make.
In addition to what sounds like a very busy role as an ASU professor and promoter, Parrish also "started a consulting company, MAP Strategies Group, to help companies in various industries deal with innovation, change management and digital transformation," according to the Republic story about her move.
ASU put out ads for the position and conducted a national search. The chosen new professor "will teach and provide leadership across the curriculum in areas related to the digital transformation of media, including leading change," one ad states. "She or he will work with Cronkite leadership, experts across the university and external partners to develop and promote programs and approaches that prepare the next generation of journalism leaders and innovators and will serve as a thought leader, writing and speaking nationally and internationally on transformative change within the news industry."
Parrish didn't respond to a request for comment from Phoenix New Times.
“It’s important for me to make a difference, and I feel I can make a bigger difference for the industry I care so much about in this (new) role,” she told the Arizona Republic.
Yet as president and publisher of the Arizona Republic, reportedly the 21st-largest newspaper by circulation in the United States in 2015, her ability to create change in the news industry may already rival what she could be done in the professorship.
Parrish, married to retired Republic reporter David Parrish, has a reputation for taking bold stances in her current job. Among them: Her participation in the editorial board decision to endorse Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, and her revelation — albeit somewhat belated — that Arizona Representative Don Shooter, a Republican from Yuma, made a crass and racially charged joke aimed at her in March 2016.
She previously worked as publisher of the Kansas City Star, 2011-2015, and president publisher of the Idaho Statesman in Boise, Idaho. Before that, Parrish was a writer and editor at newsrooms around the country, including the Chicago Sun-Times, San Francisco Chronicle and, from 1999 to 2001, at the Republic.
She also serves on several local boards of directors, including the Banner Foundation, Greater Phoenix Leadership, the Sandra Day O’Connor Institute, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, the Poynter Institute, and the Cronkite School. She told the Republic she intends to resign some of those board positions for her new ASU job.
None of the donors for the endowment had input in the selection for the position, ASU spokesman Bret Hovell said, adding that Parrish was picked by a committee of faculty members.
A January 2017 Republic article about the endowment reported that the fundraising for the position would be led by former Republic publisher Louis A. “Chip” Weil, who was "a close friend of Clark-Johnson." The article also quoted university officials as saying that the professorship "received significant funding from [Clark-Johnson's] husband, Brooks Johnson, friends and Arizona Public Service, where [Clark-Johnson] was a board member of the parent company."
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"I think she's terrific," Weil said on Tuesday of Parrish. "Mi-Ai has done some impressive things for somebody her age. I think she will carry on where Sue left off ... She's extremely bright. I think she'll be up to the challenge."
One challenge she won't have to worry about: where to invest the millions she would have made if she had been able to step into the Gannett job that Zidich took after leaving as publisher. He's leaving that job in April.
Parrish's soon-to-be ex-boss, Karen Ferguson Fuson, president of Gannett’s West group, told the Republic that Gannett plans to announce new leaders in January for the Republic and its website, azcentral.com.