NEWPORT CITY – For 42 years, Vermonters turned to WCAX newsman Marselis Parsons for the latest and in-depth news. For 25 of those years, Parsons served as news director and anchor.
Even though he retired in 2009, Parsons continues to report the occasional story.
On Wednesday, Parsons spoke at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Lecture Series held at the Goodrich Memorial Library.
Parsons, 67, who has an obvious passion for news and storytelling, spoke about his time as a journalist and anchor. Part of his presentation included anecdotes of his time at the station.
In the beginning of his career, Parsons and other reporters used a 16-millimeter camera that used film, which required processing. The cameras did not record sound, so reporters used tape recorders and tried to synchronize the sound with the video, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. Even though they would be considered antiquated by current standards, the cameras were tough, as journalists reporting from Vietnam found out. Parsons said the cameras continued to work even after being dropped from helicopters.
Today, WCAX uses cameras that take a small memory card and produce footage that can be edited and sent from anywhere by using the Internet and a laptop computer.
One of Parson’s first responsibilities as a reporter at WCAX was obtaining 15-minutes of news from the legislature every day. Parsons eventually became a field reporter and then a news anchor. For awhile, he also hosted a television news magazine program modeled after 60-minutes.
In the early days, the newscasts started at about 6:14 p.m. because the reporters read the news on the radio at six. He said the owners of WCAX made their money on radio, which they thought was the most important medium. As television came of age, the newscast started at six and lasted until seven. That eventually led to newscasts at other times of the day.
“We now have as much news in one day as we used to do in one week, including Saturday,” said Parsons.
The station also publishes news on the Internet.
Parsons learned the importance of publishing to the Internet during the Essex School shootings three years ago. While Parsons was scrambling to get reporters and satellite trucks to the scene, employees at IBM were begging him to post what was happening on the Internet.
“I said I don’t have time to waste on the Internet. I need to get my broadcast out there because I respond to 60,000 homes at six. They said, ‘The hell with you, we will watch the Free Press or Channel 5, because they realize how important the Internet is.'”
The station now has news bureaus in the Upper Valley, Rutland, Plattsburgh, N.Y., and may someday have one in Newport, Parsons said.
“We are certainly finding we can get out to places much easier than we used to,” he said.
Parsons, who said there are more changes coming, predicts that one day the station may call people to shoot scenes reporters cannot respond to while the event is happening.
Parsons also spoke about how live footage can be problematic. He said a number of years ago a television station in Florida broadcasted a live bus jacking that a well-known network picked up and showed across the country. Someone in another state ended up having a heart attack because she knew her grandchild was on the bus.
Parsons, who began his career in radio, worked at several different stations. Back then, he used fictitious names that he thought sounded better than Marselis. Parsons started using his real name when he went to WCAX.
The veteran newsman almost missed his obvious calling. When Parsons was young, he thought he would go into the Foreign Service. During Parson’s senior year in college, the United States was involved in the Vietnam War. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy. After serving in the navy, Parsons thought of joining the Diplomatic Service until his father told him he asked too many questions and suggested he become a journalist.