In a few minutes, Steve Cohen, news director at KUSI-TV in San Diego, would leave his seat and speak about the current state of journalism to a group of conservative, Second Amendment supporters.
During his speech, the veteran newsman was peppered with questions from the audience about why the press seemed to cover only one side of a story, why certain political slants are included in news stories and if there was any hope for the American news media perhaps someday returning to a fact-based, rather than opinion-based, advocacy approach to news coverage.
“I always talk on the record,” Cohen told Times of San Diego. “That’s how I make sure that I’m telling the truth.”
Cohen, 76, is a living legend in television news.
This year, he is celebrating 50 years as a TV newsman. His earned his first news director job in 1973 in Peroria, Ill.
During the past half-century, he has managed TV newsrooms in some of America’s largest markets, including New York, Detroit, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, as well as stations in Arkansas, Utah and Buffalo, New York.
His memoir book, published in 2011, is titled “The Newslife: From Arkansas To Aruba.”
Twenty years ago, in July 2003, Cohen joined KUSI-TV, one of San Diego’s top-rated stations. As an independent station, KUSI-TV is not affiliated with any U.S. broadcast network. The station airs nine-and-a-half hours of local news on weekdays and nearly 60 hours of local news every week.
“What happened to the news media?” said Cohen, as he repeated an attendee’s question who was asking about the commentary and opinion presented as news in today’s media.
“I believe the changes began years ago with introduction of the 24/7 news cycle. There was so much time to fill. So, instead of content, the focus became comment.
“Also, the Wall Street guys realized that you can make a ton of media with tabloid media rather than straight-news. Unfortunately, journalism got into a funny car and left the building.”
Another question from the crowd: What happened to balance, fairness and covering both sides of a story?
“Some newsrooms, including network affiliates, simply don’t believe in covering the other side,” Cohen said. “The other side is irrelevant to them. It doesn’t matter. We’re an independent station so we are committed to showing both sides. It’s sad to see the end of an honest dialogue.”
Cohen revealed that San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria has declined numerous invitations from KUSI for in-studio interviews since he took office in December 2020.
“Once the election was over, the mayor has refused to come in and sit for an interview because, during his campaign, we covered his support for lighter sentences for sex crimes,” Cohen said. “It’s sad that he has a grudge against us. That’s what I mean about refusing to dialogue.”
The future of KUSI-TV, owned by McKinnon Broadcasting, also was a topic of conversation.
In May, McKinnon Broadcasting agreed to sell the station for $35 million to Nexstar Media Group, which also owns another San Diego TV station, KSWB-TV Fox 5 San Diego. Nexstar reportedly plans to make KUSI-TV an affiliate of The CW when that affiliation becomes available. Tegna’s KFMB-TV, San Diego’s CBS network affiliate, currently carries The CW programming on Channel 6, its sub-channel.
“I don’t know what changes, if any, will happen when Nexstar takes over,” Cohen said. “They know how successful we have been with our independent values, but things could change. The McKinnons will hand-over the keys probably sometime this summer. Ask me that question later. If I’m still around here by Thanksgiving, then I’ll have a better idea.”
Finally, is there a future for straight-news journalism?
“Not in the short-term, but I’m hopeful for a sea-change as people realize about the importance of freedom, a fair press and the right to express your opinion,” Cohen said. “The fight is always there to get public sentiment on your side. That’s because if you have the public’s support, then you can get anything done.”
Ballantines PR Representing Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina
Ballantines PR, based in West Hollywood, has announced it has been named the agency of record for the Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina, 1380 Harbor Island Dr., San Diego.
The PR firm said it will provide the Sheraton property with public relations services, including media relations, brand strategy, storytelling, thought leadership, trend forecasting, creative partnerships, activations, programming and campaign development and execution.
A Ballantines spokesperson said the 1,053-room property has begun an $85 million renovation that is scheduled for completion in the 2024 second quarter.
Ballantines PR, established in 2001, is led by Sarah Robarts, founder and president. The spokesperson told Times of San Diego that Robarts named her PR firm after noticing a neon sign for a retro, mid-century hotel in Palm Springs.
The agency said its clients are involved in travel, hospitality, art, design, entertainment, sports and philanthropy industries. The client list includes Marriott Bonvoy, Pacificia Hotels, Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills Hotel, Delta Airlines, American Airlines, Conrad Bora Borra, Autograph Collection Hotels, Fairmont Grand Del Mar and Westin Hotels & Resorts.
Ballantines PR, with additional offices in New York, San Francisco, Miami and London, has about 25 employees, the spokesperson said.
Former Lowe’s Marketing Chief Now At SeaWorld Entertainment
SeaWorld Entertainment has named Marisa Thalberg as chief marketing and communications officer.
A statement said Thalberg will oversee brand and marketing strategies that drive revenue and increase visitation at the company’s portfolio of 12 marine theme parks, including SeaWorld San Diego. She also will oversee elevating the company’s conservation mission, the company said.
Thalberg, a globally-recognized brand builder and pioneer of digital, social and e-commerce marketing, is a five-time honoree on Forbes’ “World Most Influential CMOs” list.
Previously, she served as executive VP and chief brand and marketing officer for Lowe’s Companies from 2020 to September 2022. At Lowe’s, Thalberg was responsible for transforming the marketing role. Her position at Lowe’s was eliminated amid a reorganization of roles as the home improvement retailer’s marketing team was moved to merchandising services.
Prior to Lowe’s, Thalberg was the global chief brand officer at Irvine, California-based Taco Bell, where she achieved same store sales growth every quarter and a high passion index among fans. She also provided global brand stewardship for Taco Bell’s international expansion, as well as the August 2019 opening of the Taco Bell Hotel and Resort in Palm Springs.
From 2007 to 2015, Thalberg was the head of corporate digital marketing for The Estee Lauder Companies, where she was responsible for digital and social marketing and content strategy to support brand and e-commerce development worldwide across the company’s portfolio of more than 30 leading global beauty brands.
In 2002, Thalberg founded Executive Moms, an organization created to connect and support accomplished women who are both professionals and moms.
She currently serves as a strategic advisor to the venture-capital firm Composite Ventures and is on the board of the Blumenthal Center of the Arts. She has served on the boards of the AdCouncil, International Women’s Media Foundation, TheatreworksUSA and the Orange County School of the Arts.
Marc Swanson, CEO, SeaWorld Entertainment, said, “Marisa’s experience with some of the most recognized retail and food-and-beverage brands, coupled with her strong history of driving revenue growth through holistic marketing strategies, represents a great opportunity to better showcase our iconic brands and the passionate work we do with conservation. We are thrilled to have her join our leadership team.”
Thalberg said, “From the moment I experienced SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment and learned more about all of the brands within it, I have been so excited to join this leadership team. This is a company that is uniquely built on delivering joy and creating memories that matter, while also educating and inspiring others to protect animals and the wild wonders of our world. The growth opportunities ahead are incredibly exciting.”
San Diego AMA Hosts Summer Social
The American Marketing Association San Diego chapter will host a summer networking social from 5:30 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, July 26, at Viewpoint Brewing Co., 2201 San Dieguito Drive in Del Mar. The public is invited to attend.
The event will include introductions of the 2023-2024 AMA San Diego board of directors. Claudia Chow will serve as 2023-2024 president, succeeding Frank Cowell.
Rick Griffin is a San Diego-based public relations and marketing consultant. His MarketInk column appears weekly on Mondays in Times of San Diego.