Former Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory received the Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award from the New England First Amendment Coalition in Boston Thursday night, urging journalists to “be bold.”
“Do not walk in stocking feet,” he said during the coalition’s 13th annual awards ceremony, held this year at the Tuscan Kitchen Seaport. “Do not settle for convention. Make yourselves, ourselves, heard at every possible turn.”
McGrory, now chairman of the Boston University journalism department, said boldness includes pushing for more access to public records that will benefit readers.
”Do not be waylaid by the absurd charges that they demand for public records, often under the guise of a bureaucrat’s time,” he said. “Do not accept their denials for records that we know should be ours. Do not tolerate their silence.”
Coalition officials said that as the Globe’s editor, McGrory supported often lengthy and costly public records appeals and lawsuits to support his staff’s reporting. He helped oppose subpoenas of his reporters in civil and criminal actions in state and federal courts. And he distinguished himself from other editors by publicizing public record battles and the need for transparency.
McGrory said he was proud and humbled to win an award named for Hamblett, a former publisher of The Providence Journal. He said members of the Globe’s Rhode Island bureau know he’s grown to love Providence, “a great restaurant town” with “lots of news down there.”
McGrory said he watched videos of prior recipients of the Stephen Hamblett award, and the general theme of those speeches fit within a three-act formula: “Act 1: We as an industry are exquisitely screwed. Act 2: It’s a shame that we are so screwed because we are in a moment when our work is more essential than it has been in a long, long time. Act 3: There are little shards of hope emerging, so even though we are screwed, we should all remain optimistic.”
Industry forces remain challenging, he said.
“Print is in an irreversible state of decline,” McGrory said. “Ruthless private equity partners are more than happy to strip-mine once proud and vital news organizations. Add to this the fact that entire swaths of the nation seem receptive to the ludicrous pitch that we are the enemy of the people.”
But, he said, journalism remains vital during “a time of conspiracy theories and alternative facts and flat-out lies.”
Signs of hope endure, he said, showing that success is achievable. He cited nonprofit news organizations such as the New Bedford Light and the VTDigger. He cited digital readership growth at the Seattle Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and Minneapolis Star-Tribune. And, he said, the Globe is leading the charge at a regional level.
”Let’s accept that this is a moment in which we are severely challenged and extremely vital, and let’s know as well that the challenges and the vitality are what is giving us the most hope,” McGrory said. “We are needed, and that is almost always a very good thing.”
Nancy West, founder of the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism, received the Michael Donoghue Freedom of Information Award. And Susan Hawes, who waged a successful battle for information about a county jail in Maine and its employment practices, received the Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award.