San Diego Press Club at 40

Everyone seems to know that journalism is a rapidly shrinking — if not dying —industry, perhaps destined to go the way of the manual typewriter, the phonograph and the film camera.

Those in the field know the anguish of round after round of layoffs, media outlets closing or being acquired, and some broadcast stations largely abandoning locally produced content. Casual readers and listeners are aware of the trend, if not the pain, of its dimensions.

The Internet is the reason, many quickly suggest. That’s part of it, as more outlets chase advertising dollars and some firms choose to market directly to consumers. But the advertising model itself may be broken. Witness locally: Even the low-overhead Web publications have had to retrench for “lack of consumer awareness” or, more likely, lack of revenue.

An occupation once so rich in personal rewards is now poor in salaries, job security and employment opportunities.

Against this backdrop, few know that San Diego is home to the nation’s third-largest press club, whose membership has doubled in the past seven years.

San Diego Press Club, now with around 400 members, is not the only media organization around. There’s the Society of Professional Journalists, associations of broadcasters, public relations practitioners and even affinity groups for journalists of various minorities.

Working journalists, if they want to continue working, have had to adapt. Many of us are acquiring new skills or learning to transfer the ones we have — writing, speaking, investigating, designing, planning events, photographing and managing — to new fields. Newspapers may be fewer in numbers, but authorities say the ability to communicate well will never go out of style.

Like their current or potential members, media organizations such as the San Diego Press Club have also had to adapt. The emphasis now is less on social events — cocktail mixers and weekend outings — and more on “how-to” skills seminars, networking and job-bank referrals.

Journalists, once used to a steady paycheck, now hunger for seminars on setting up their own freelance business and doing it efficiently. “How to Market Yourself” is what the Press Club calls it. Our “Nuts and Bolts” series also has included many sessions on social media — we were teaching Twitter before Twitter was cool or dreaming of a stock offering. The jargon of journalism now includes SEO, or “search engine optimization,” the knack of having a company or a story show up near the top of a search engine list. Yup, we’ve even got a seminar on that.

The Press Club’s annual awards competition, where entrants’ work is judged by peers from out of the area, is enormously popular. “That first place or best of show award can help in landing a new assignment or being recruited for the occasional new job opening,” says Terry Williams, executive director, Social media has taken professional networking to a whole new level, although there’s still much to be said for talking face to face with a possible mentor and getting words of encouragement.

The Press Club is proud of its record of giving $4,500 annually in college scholarships to bright young newcomers, even if some of us might have a momentary pang of conscience about helping lure them into a shrinking occupation.

The moral lessons extend far beyond the field of journalism, however.

Society expects us to make career choices somewhere around the age of 20 on how to spend the next half-century. Gone are the days when one might spend an entire career with the same company. Increasingly gone are the days when one might even expect to spend an entire career in the same field! Just ask the typewriter repairman, the elevator operator, service station attendant or librarian with Dewey Decimal System mastery.

Career planning today involves broadening one’s skills, watching societal trends and networking in many ways. Skilled communicators will never go out of style. Neither will networking with the personal touch. That will be the reason for professional organizations existing in any field.

Espinosa, a travel journalist, is the president of the San Diego Press Club, now celebrating its 40th year. Sevrens was employed by the San Diego Union-Tribune for 44 years.

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