Linda Rosas Townson

By Rick Griffin

The San Diego Press Club will celebrate its 47th annual Excellence in Journalism awards program on Tuesday evening, Oct. 27. About 500 awards in more than 180 categories and 10 division will be announced during an online awards program streamed live over Facebook and Twitter starting at 6 p.m. and originating from the San Diego Automotive Museum in Balboa Park.

This year’s Press Club awards program drew more than 1,100 entries, making it one of the largest journalism competitions in the nation. Judges for the Press Club’s entries included members of 15 journalism professional organizations from around the country, including press clubs in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Rochester, Florida, Cleveland, Orange County, Milwaukee, Tulsa and Alaska.

Three special career recognition awards also will be presented as part of the event. Recipients will include: Linda Rosas Townson, San Diego Neighborhood Newspapers, Jim Reinman Award for excellence in media management; Alison St. John, retired reporter for KPBS, Harold Keen Award for outstanding contributions in journalism; Maria Velasquez, former spokesperson for San Diego City Attorney’s Office and San Diego Housing Commission, Andy Mace Award for career achievements in public relations.

Townson serves as publisher of San Diego Neighborhood Newspapers (SDNN), publisher of three local community weekly newspapers, including the Star-News in Chula Vista, East County Californian in El Cajon and Alpine Sun. Also, for the past decade, she has served as senior VP of community media overseeing business operations for 18 Southern California community newspapers published by Cypress, Calif.-based Community Media Corp., owned by brothers Daniel and Edward Verdugo.

“I’m honored to receive this award, it’s very flattering and I’m grateful,” said Townson, who recently began her 32nd year of working in the community newspaper industry. The San Diego native began her career selling print ads in the summer of 1989.

“Don’t tell me that print community journalism is dead,” she said. “Where else can you read about Little League scores, or a fireman rescuing a cat from a tree, or school news that is important to working families? My career is living proof that community journalism still matters and we will survive because we’re providing a local voice to local residents in their hometown.

“The business model for community journalism will withstand the test of time because we reach the right audience for our advertisers and our readers receive news they can’t read anywhere else,” she said.

Over the years, Townson has survived through economic downturns, ownership changes and losing big advertisers. But, the Covid-19 lockdown presented a new set of hardships. While some freelancers lost assignments and part-timers had their hours reduced, no full-time employees lost their jobs, she said. In addition, in the early months of Covid, Townson initiated a new program that was counter to her business acumen: She gave away free advertising to local businesses.

According to Albert Fulcher, managing editor, SDNN, “During the early weeks of the lockdown, Linda sent everyone scouring the neighborhoods to find out who was still open and then we published their listing for free,” said Fulcher. “This was astounding when you consider that all these newspapers are distributed free of charge and they survive for every print cycle based on revenue from advertisers to cover expenses.”

“It was the right thing to do at the time,” said Townson, referring to her free advertising offer. “As a member of the local community, we had to do whatever we could do to support our local community, especially small, locally owned businesses. Alerting our readers to which businesses had their doors open was our way to help.”

Townson is unsure of how much free advertising was provided to local businesses during the spring lockdown, but she estimates the dollar value was in the tens of thousands of dollars.

After graduating from Mar Vista High School in Imperial Beach, Southwestern College and San Diego State University, Townson started as an account executive with Bridal Bazaar, a quarterly magazine, and later with the La Jolla Light newspaper. At age 28, she was hired as publisher of Good Times, a now-defunct weekly entertainment guide, which was followed by directing ad sales for the Sun Newspapers, a small chain owned at the time by News Corp. with editions circulating in Encinitas, Oceanside, Carlsbad and San Marcos. She joined the Star-News in 1994 and has never left.

Townson currently serves on the boards of Autism Tree Project Foundation and Scripps Mercy Hospital in Chula Vista and Hillcrest. She hopes to return soon visiting hospital patients with Winnie, her Labrador therapy dog, a discontinued practice because of Covid.

“Winnie and I were furloughed, that’s f-u-r, it’s a joke,” said Townson. “Before Covid, it was an unbelievable blessing to have the opportunity to serve and provide encouragement and support. Winnie makes such a difference with people who are hurting. People will smile, cry, hug the dog, pet the dog or even chuckle. The animal-human bond is very strong and emotional.”

Townson’s award is named after Jim Reiman, who served for many years as assistant news director at KGTV-TV/Channel 10. Reiman was considered an unsung hero of the profession, similar to many behind-the-scenes journalists who do not have a byline nor appear on camera. When Reinman retired, the Press Club created the award to honor enlightened media managers and the first recipient was KGTV assignment editor Jack Moorhead in 1997.

St. John’s award is named after Harold Keen, who anchored San Diego’s first television news broadcast in 1949 and was described by colleagues as the dean of San Diego journalists. Keen arrived in San Diego in 1936 as a reporter for The San Diego Sun. He later worked for the San Diego Union, San Diego Magazine and KFMB-TV/Channel 8. He passed away in 1981.

Velasquez’s award is named after Andy Mace, former public relations manager at Pacific Telephone in San Diego. In 1971, Mace is credited with the idea of starting the San Diego Press Club. He later started his own company, Andy Mace & Associates, with an office at the Mission Valley’s Stardust Hotel & Country Club, now the Handlery Hotel. He passed away in 2009 at age 88.

San Diego Symphony Names Craig Hall, VP of Marketing

The San Diego Symphony has appointed Craig Hall as vice president of marketing and communications. The announcement was made by Martha Gilmer, CEO of the symphony.

Craig Hall

Hall comes to San Diego from the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, where he had worked since 2007 in the roles of VP of communications and VP for audience engagement. He planned and executed the media launch for the grand opening of the New World Symphony’s concert hall, called the Frank Gehry designed New World Center. He also worked with music director Michael Tilson Thomas and the musicians in the fellowship program in creating audience-engagement concepts and multi-media platforms. His leadership in research and audience development has been recognized at conferences nationally and internationally.

“I’m thrilled to join the San Diego staff and musicians in further developing transformative musical experiences that serve and engage the communities in San Diego, and all who experience the programs it has to offer,” said Hall.

Founded in 1910, the San Diego Symphony is the oldest orchestra in California. Its 82 full-time musicians perform at Copley Symphony Hall in Down San Diego and The Shell at Embarcadero Marina Park South on San Diego Bay.

Taxpayers Group Recognizes Jail Inmate Deaths Press Coverage

The San Diego County Taxpayers Association, a watchdog organization that promotes accountable, cost-effective and efficient government, honored investigative reporters Jeff McDonald and Kelly Davis, The San Diego Union-Tribune, with a Media Watchdog award at its recent Golden Watchdog and Fleece Awards.

The taxpayers association said the reporters found the average mortality rate for inmates in custody at San Diego County jails was the highest among California’s 10 largest jail systems. In response to McDonald’s and Davis’ news stories, the Sheriff’s Department added staff and adopted new practices aimed at improving medical and mental-health treatment inside county jails.

Other nominees for this year’s Media Watchdog award included: KGTV-TV ABC 10, Adam Racusin, The Transparency Project; The San Diego Union-Tribune, Morgan Cook, Jeff McDonald, CSU San Marcos Lavish Spending; Voice of San Diego, Lisa Halverstadt, MTS Use-of-Force Exemption; Voice of San Diego; Jesse Marx, Smart Streetlights Data for Police.

The Media Watchdog award was among the taxpayers association’s Golden Watchdog and Fleece Awards that recognized the best and worst in local government spending, decision-making and efficiency. Awards were announced Oct. 22.

IABC San Diego’s Webinar on Mission Valley Stadium

The International Association of Business Communicators  San Diego chapter will host a webinar with members of the Mission Valley West communications team who worked on San Diego State University’s new Aztec stadium from 5 to 6 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 29. The free event, open to members and nonmembers, also will include networking starting at 4:45 p.m.

Discussing their integrated communications strategies will include San Diego State University’s La Monica Everett-Haynes, associate VP and chief communications officer, and Gina Jacobs, associate VP, Mission Valley development. Moderating the webinar will be Margie Newman, founder, Intesa Communications Group. For more event information, visit sandiego.iabc.com.

Rick Griffin

Rick Griffin is a San Diego-based public relations and marketing consultant. His MarketInk column appears weekly on Mondays in Times of San Diego.

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