Amid dangerous times, a 'Blessing of Journalists' in Springfield

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SPRINGFIELD — For journalists overseas, the job is becoming increasingly dangerous. Even here at home, concerns are growing over press freedom.

Knowing this, for the second year in a row, the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts dedicated the Feast of Frederick Douglass on Wednesday to the "Blessing of Journalists."

"He was an orator and advocate for truth and justice," Bishop Doug Fisher, of Great Barrington, said of Douglass, at Christ Church Cathedral. "He believed telling the truth about slavery would change hearts."

At the blessing, which drew about two dozen people, the diocese awarded WGBY-TV reporter Carrie Saldo with the Bishop's Award, honoring her for bringing local and national concerns to residents of Western Massachusetts through her reporting.

Saldo, host of the station's "Connecting Point," has reported for Public Broadcasting Service, NPR, The Berkshire Eagle and Berkshire Living Magazine.

Lynn Page, deputy general manager at WGBY, accepted the award — it was a reprint of Douglass' newspaper The North Star — on behalf of Saldo, who was home caring for her week-old son.

"Communicating the stories of the people of this region is my honor and my privilege," Saldo said in a letter that was read by Page.

Speaking at the event, Mark Hambley, who served as ambassador to Qatar and Lebanon, spoke of the concerning number of high-profile murders of journalists across the world, including that of Washington Post columnist and Saudi Arabian dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

Hambley had met Khashoggi, who was killed in October at the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul, when he was serving as director of the Media Outreach Center in London in the early 2000s. At the center, it was Hambley's job to improve dialogue with pan-Arab media, and Khashoggi was one of those reporters.

"Journalists all over the world face the same kind of restraints," Hambley said after the blessing.

Governments have messages that they want to disseminate, and when journalists report facts that counter their message, it can end up being dangerous, Hambley explained. The best journalists are those who identify "ills of society" and also possible solutions in their work, he said.

"I have a soft spot for journalists," Hambley said. "My experience with journalists is that they are very resilient."

Among the readings Wednesday was the First Amendment and a message that Pope Francis recited in January 2018.

"I would like, then, to invite everyone to promote a journalism of peace," the Rev. Lauren Holm read, recalling the pope's message.

"By that, I do not mean the saccharine kind of journalism that refuses to acknowledge the existence of serious problems or smacks of sentimentalist. On the contrary, I mean a journalism that is truthful and opposed to falsehoods, rhetorical slogans and sensationalist headlines."

The Rev. Vicki Ix, the diocese communications director, read off a list of names of local and national reporters to be blessed.

Fisher first decided to host the annual event about a year and a half ago, "after realizing the abusive language used towards journalists," he said Wednesday. Because of that rhetoric, he wanted to find a way to honor members of the press for the work that they do.

"The word 'gospel' means good news," said Fisher, whose daughter is publicity director for "Good Morning America."

"We get a lot of involvement in the press."

This is the first year that a specific journalist received an award from the diocese. While there were many journalists to choose from in Western Massachusetts, Saldo's reach through "Connecting Point," and the accessibility of public access television, contributed to the bishop's decision, Ix said.

"She's really deserving," Fisher said.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.

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