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August 21. 2014 8:28PM

News veteran Balboni says Foley 'found his calling' covering war zones.


GlobalPost co-founder and CEO Phil Balboni, left, and James Foley seen at a 2012 Overseas Press Club awards ceremony in New York. (GlobalPost.com)


A screen grab from a May 25, 2011 video in which James Foley describes his capture in Libya. He and two other journalists were captured by forces loyal to Moammar Gadaffi. A fourth, photographer Anton Hammerl, was shot and killed in the ambush. Foley was released after six weeks. GLOBALPOST.com 

Phil Balboni knows many words of praise have been used to describe New Hampshire-based journalist James Foley since news of his killing at the hands of Islamic State insurgents.

But Balboni, co-founder and CEO of the online international news company GlobalPost, captured his thoughts in a few simple sentences. “He was a reporter. Period,” said Balboni. “He was old-school, someone who talked to the locals and always put the story first. He came to journalism late in life, but he found his calling.”

Foley, whose family lives in Rochester, was freelancing for GlobalPost when he was captured in November 2012. He also was freelancing for the online news site when he was captured in Libya by dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s forces in 2011, and held for 44 days.

Balboni said the way Foley went after a story, often in hostile environments, inspired everyone in his organization.

“When I remember Jim, which I will for the rest of my days, at his final moment, showing incredible courage right to the last minute of his life, that needs to be honored,” Balboni said. “He loved telling these stories, and he was drawn to conflict. It’s where he came alive.”

Balboni recalled the moment he heard that Foley, 40, was kidnapped in Syria.

“I have such a clear mental image of this,” he said. “I was sitting in my home in Cambridge (Mass.). It was the Saturday right after the Thanksgiving holiday, and I got an email on my Blackberry from a freelance journalist who knew Jim saying she feared that Jim had gone missing,” Balboni said. “You build such a strong bond with someone, working to free him the first time. I had a terrible feeling thinking it had happened again.”

Balboni said Foley’s captors originally demanded a ransom of 100 million euros ($132.5 million) for his release.

The demand was received in November 2013.

“I think personally, and speaking for the Foleys as well, we would’ve paid a ransom,” said Balboni. “We were working hard to raise the money. We had extensive conversations about this with branches of the United States government and with legal counsel, and were familiar with what was legally permissible for us to do. I understand that many feel giving money to these evil people is a very hard thing to do, but we were prepared to do it if we could raise the money. But then we never heard from the kidnappers again.”

Balboni said Foley entered the working world as an educator in 1996, working as a teacher with Teach for America.

The group’s co-CEO, Elisa Villanueva Beard, issued a statement Thursday saying, “At Teach For America, we will remember Jim for his tenacity, his spirit, and his fierce dedication to give voice to the voiceless. He was one of a kind. I’ll remember his courage, bravery, and commitment to justice. Jim was an incredible teacher who was a model of love and excellence, and went on to be a journalist with the same passion, care, and integrity that he’d shown in the classroom.”

In 2008, Foley left teaching to take up journalism, a profession he viewed as his calling, according to Balboni.

Friends remember Foley as a kind soul and a tireless journalist, and have been sharing stories through social media honoring Foley’s memory.

Journalist and friend Clay Dillow wrote on Twitter: “James Foley was among the most selfless.

Those who knew him were lucky to call Jim a friend. Those who didn’t missed something beautiful.”

Bloomberg News’ Alex Sherman urged Twitter followers to “please remember my friend Jim Foley today — beheaded by ISIS after nearly two years of capture. A funny, warm, Big Lebowski–loving guy.”

Balboni said Foley’s killing will not deter his organization from sending reporters into unstable situations to get a story.

“We are proud of what we do,” said Balboni. “I see so many reporters, of all ages, who are hungry to go to these places, meet the people, tell their stories. Will Jim’s death deter some from taking up journalism? It might. But his spirit will live on in those that do.

“We’re not going to stop. We can’t let monsters like this deter a free press from doing our job. It’s what Jim’s life was all about.”

pfeely@unionleader.com


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