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Digital Journalism Must Focus on Traditional Media Virtues, Balboni Tells NEFAC Luncheon

BOSTON -  The “relentless focus” on building an audience must not overwhelm digital journalism’s obligation to report complex issues and investigate public and private corruption, GlobalPost co-founder and CEO Philip Balboni said Wednesday.

NEFAC President Mary Jane Wilkinson presents the Stephen J. Hamblett award to Philip Balboni.

NEFAC President Mary Jane Wilkinson presents the Stephen J. Hamblett award to Philip Balboni.

“This is why we have First Amendment protections; and in order to preserve them digital journalism must live up to all its responsibilities,” Balboni told theNew England First Amendment Coalition‘s annual awards luncheon.

The architect of NECN, the nation’s first, 24-hour regional TV news network, received NEFAC’s Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award for lifetime achievement.

Forty-six years into a career in print, TV and digital journalism, Balboni is now guiding a new media venture that attracts more than three million readers a month. He touted GlobalPost’s growth but decried what he termed the “Huffington Post syndrome,” a reliance on social media, technology and insubstantial content to attract visitors.

“We must never allow the dictates of audience generation to overwhelm what has always been the core of journalism’s public service mission,” he said after accepting the award named for the late chairman and publisher of the Providence Journal. (Read full text of Balboni remarks)

Digital journalism also needs to raise its advertising rates to something approaching those of the traditional media to provide the financial support for quality journalism. He said “It’s essential to achieve a solid balance between journalistic excellence and business success. No news organization can consider itself a success unless it achieves both.”

Balboni is the third person to be presented with the annual Hamblett award. Earlier recipients included Martin Baron, former editor of The Boston Globe who took over as executive editor of The Washington Post in January, and the late Anthony Lewis, retired New York Times columnist who died March 25.

The luncheon at the Seaport Boston Hotel included the presentation of two awards new this year:

NEFAC Director Robert Bertsche presents the Citizen Right to Know Award to David Lang.

NEFAC Director Robert Bertsche presents the Citizen Right to Know Award to David Lang.

The Citizen Right to Know Award went to David Lang, president of The Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire, whose persistence unsealing Local Government Center documents helped win a health insurance refund for state public employees. The ruling is being appealed to the state Supreme Court, but the reorganization of the LGC that was part of the state’s order is already underway.

Lang said the First Amendment “allows any person to speak truth to power. You may not like what is being said, or who is saying it; but thanks to the First Amendment, we are able to say it.” Referring to the LGC case, he said: “This fight will continue to be about transparency for the taxpayers and public employees.”

The Freedom of Information Award went to Don Stacom of  The Hartford Courant for a series of articles over several months that uncovered misbehavior that prompted a shakeup of the New Britain, Conn., Police Department.

Among the highlights:

  • a captain who repeatedly had on-duty sex with women and lied to investigators when confronted. He received a full pension and a payout after being pressured into retirement.
  • a sergeant with 26 years in the department was allowed to retire shortly before a hearing into his misuse of the state’s online crime data system to check on a man he suspected was dating his wife.
  • city officials told a detective from nearby Southington to stop an investigation after he concluded Police Chief William Gagliardi’s son had stolen city property and auctioned it off on eBay.
  • Chief Gagliardi retired under pressure and the city appointed a reform administration.

The awards luncheon is supported by the Providence Journal Charitable FoundationThe Boston Globe and Bingham McCutchen LLP.