Diane Bell
Diane Bell on the San Diego waterfront.

The announcement came as a surprise, recalled Diane Bell, former city columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper.

After 48 years at the U-T, including 28 of those years as the page B-1 columnist, Bell said she was faced with a “momentous decision.”

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In July of this year, it was announced that Los Angeles billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong had sold the U-T to an affiliate of the MediaNews Group, owned by Alden Global Capital, which owns roughly 200 publications, including the Chicago Tribune.

“The new owner immediately made a buyout proposal to the entire staff,” Bell told Times of San Diego. “We were given about a week to make a decision with the final employment date of Friday, July 21, for most jobs. It was a dizzying rate of speed for such a momentous decision.”

After a career that included more than 4,000 columns, she took the buyout.

“The first thing I did with my free time was schedule a manicure and pedicure,” Bell said. “And, I signed-up for Pilates classes.”

Bell also has time to attend the San Diego Press Club’s 50th annual Excellence in Journalism awards on Tuesday, Oct. 3 in Balboa Park. At the event, she will be presented with the Harold Keen Award, which is given to a journalist who has gone above and beyond for the sake of fairness and truth telling.

“I am both thrilled and deeply honored to receive an award named after Harold Keen,” Bell said.

Keen, who anchored San Diego’s first television news broadcast in 1949, is often described 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.

Since leaving the paper, Bell said, “I’ve received many, many notes, emails, calls and contacts through social media. When I’m out in the community, readers regularly come up to thank me for my many years of column writing. It is a warm, wonderful feeling to know that my stories have made an impact.”

During her final week at the U-T, Bell wrote her good-bye column.

“I am saying farewell to the many local readers who have become my friends, my confidants and my sounding board over the years. It is with a leaden heart that I write my last official column 28 years after my debut on May 2, 1995, as The San Diego Union-Tribune city columnist,” she wrote.

Bell’s 1,700-word column included her career-long memories of interviews with celebrities, once-in-a-lifetime experiences (including piloting a Navy nuclear submarine) and news stories about ordinary folk turned local heroes.

“The unforgettable gift San Diego has given me over the years is my interaction with famous, infamous and every day folks who make up the fiber of the region,” she wrote in her final column. “I publicized many deeds of kindness and spur-of-the moment acts of heroism as I chronicled the daily scene, always trying to define what makes San Diego tick.

“As a journalist, I’ve been an editorial writer, opinion page editor, president of the national Association of Opinion Page Editors, features section editor, consumer columnist and more. I’ve occupied a catbird seat watching San Diego grow from a lazy beach-side oasis with a reputation as a Navy town to a thriving center of high tech, biotech and innovation.”

Bell’s final column drew emotional responses from readers, she said.

“I knew one day I would be faced with writing a farewell column, and I always vowed to start a `final column’ file, but I never did,” Bell wrote to Times of San Diego in an email. “I had planned to retire in a year or so, but when the buyout offer came so suddenly, there was less than a week to prepare, and I was still writing my regular column. So, my rearview mirror glimpse was really a stream of consciousness prepared in a couple of days without the benefit of time to labor over the content.

“My deadline training apparently paid off because people seemed appreciative. Some said they shed tears; others noted that they thought they knew me but had no idea of some of the things I had done, such as tracking mountain gorillas in Uganda. One reader texted me that he only subscribed to the paper for my column and the crossword puzzles. And more than one thought my final column was the best I’d ever written. My farewell column was heartfelt, but admittedly it is challenging to try to capture more than four decades of journalism in 45 inches of type.”

Bell’s family includes husband Roy (they’ve been married 33 years this month) and three teenagers, including Brad, 19, and twins, Cassie and Chase, 15. After Bell left the paper, the family took a 12-day trip to Italy.

“The trip was planned before the Union-Tribune was sold, but it was a wonderful way to shift gears and relax. We hadn’t had a getaway outside the U.S. or Mexico since before the pandemic,” Bell said.

“My husband and I became parents later in life. Our oldest child is in college, but two others are high school juniors just embarking on college exam prep and campus visits. I want to share time with them without the distraction of work.”

Bell admits she has received new job offers over the past two months.

“Several people have suggested I write a blog or put together a book drawn from my San Diego columns. That is in the back of my mind. Many of the topics are timeless,” she said.

“But for now, I’m taking a break and not entertaining any (job) offers. Maybe down the line, I will change my mind. I truly want to savor my time with family before my twins head off to college in less than two years and my husband and I become empty-nesters.”

And, what do the teenagers think about having mom now at home all the time? “They love having a built-in Uber drive,” Bell quipped.

At the Press Club’s awards event, Bell will be one of two recipients of career achievement awards. Georgeanne Irvine, who has worked for 45 years at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, will receive the Andy Mace Award for career achievements in public relations.

Currently the director of publishing, Irvine’s other roles at the Zoo have included public relations and spokesperson, along with marketing and philanthropy. She also has authored 30 children’s books.

The PR 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 PR consultancy, called 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.

The Press Club awards event is open to the public. More than 400 people are expected to attend. Admission cost is $60 for members, $75 for nonmembers and $60 for students. A table of 10 (regardless of membership status) is available for $600. For more information, visit sdpressclub.org.

San Diego’s Gigantic Playground Agency Joins CourtAvenue

CourtAvenue, a digital marketing agency that operates other digital creative agencies, including San Diego-based Modifly, has announced a partnership with Gigantic Playground, a San Diego-based experience agency. Terms of the partnership were not disclosed.

The deal brings Gigantic Playground under the CourtAvenue Collective of company, according to Kenny Tomlin, CourtAvenue co-founder and partner. “This partnership will enable us to bring even more value to our clients, helping them thrive in today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape,” Tomlin said in a statement.

Dan Khabie, CourtAvenue co-founder, said in an email to Times of San Diego, “The team at Gigantic Playground used to be my competition when I was building my first company, Digitaria, here in San Diego. Having Gigantic Playground and Modifly right here in San Diego, along with CourtAvenue, has turned us into a local, regional and global powerhouse of talent and clients.”

Gigantic Playground has worked with a diverse array of clients to create future-thinking, experience strategies in themed entertainment, retail and commerce, smart cities and buildings and digital health, a statement said.

A spokesperson told Times of San Diego that Gigantic Playground’s previous clients have included The Walt Disney Company, Universal Studios, Hulu and Under Armour.

“Joining forces with CourtAvenue and being within the Collective is an exciting opportunity to share our connected experience approach and explore new horizons in the digital world,” said Michael Maginnis, co-founder, Gigantic Playground. “We look forward to combining our strengths and delivering exceptional results to our clients.”

Founded in 2020, CourtAvenue has 135 employees in 14 states and four countries, the spokesperson said.

Mapp Digital Expands Marketing Cloud Functionalities

San Diego-based Mapp Digital, a digital marketing platform provider, has announced enhancements to Mapp Cloud, its core product.

The enhancements include the Magento plug-in, which will allow marketers to create personalized, cross-channel campaigns based on shopping behavior predictions, the company said. Marketing professionals will have a broader range of expanded cloud functionalities, empowering them to deliver more personalized and effective campaigns.

The company said another enhancement to Mapp Cloud includes extended functionality of Mapp Intelligence. With this analytics solution, individual time periods can now be defined for analyses and dashboards, allowing targeted data selection for specific analysis purposes and comparison of marketing activities based on user needs.

“In today’s world, holistic marketing across various channels is of great importance. At Mapp, we take pride in continuously providing our customers with innovative new solutions and exciting enhancements,” said Eric Lubow, chief technology and producer officer at Mapp. “It is crucial for our customers to reach their target audience at every touchpoint in order to ensure a seamless customer experience. With these new updates, we continue to push the boundaries of digital marketing and offer our clients a first-class platform to achieve their marketing goals.”

Mapp said its digital marketing platform helps more than 700 businesses across Europe and the U.S., including Ella’s Kitchen, Expert, Freesat, West Ham United F.C., MyToys, Pepsico, Quint, Vivienne Westwood and The Entertainer.

Nexstar Donates to Feeding America

Nexstar Media Group, which owns or partners with more than 200 TV stations, including KUSI-TV and KSWB-TV Fox 5 in San Diego, has announced its Nexstar Media Charitable Foundation has donated another $50,000 to Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger relief organization.

The donation is part of Nexstar’s four-year, $2 million partnership with Feeding America. As part of the partnership, Nexstar said it is donating airtime worth more than $600,000 to air a variety of public service announcements for Feeding America.

“It is more important than ever that we continue to keep the issues of hunger and food insecurity in the United States front and center, especially when millions continue going hungry daily and the need is so great,” said Perry Sook, chairman and CEO, Nexstar Media Group.

“The work done by Feeding America and its local partner food pantries and food banks is essential to helping those in need. We are proud of our partnership with Feeding America and pleased to be using our powerful national and local broadcast and digital platforms to raise awareness about these issues.”

Established in 1958, the Nexstar Media Charitable Foundation makes donations of approximately $350,000 annually, according to a statement.

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