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Partisan Journalists Are Toxic to the Profession, Washington Post Columnist Says

By H.J. Cummins

Washington, DC -- Washington Post columnist David Ignatius urged journalists to resist the “growing pressure in our business to be ‘embedded’” – to take a side in any cause – a trend that now seems to tolerate journalists contributing to political campaigns.

Master of Ceremonies Jonathan Karl (left) and ICFJ Founders Award Recipient David Ignatius

Referring to election-cycle reports of journalists making political donations, Ignatius said they violate journalism’s core value of seeking a balanced and impartial truth.

Ignatius made his remarks at a November 9 awards dinner of the International Center for Journalists, now in its 26th year of fostering quality journalism around the world. He was one of four honorees cited this year not only for their excellent work – but for their impact. ICFJ also honored Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, for the impact his vast information network has had on news delivery worldwide.

Ignatius received the ICFJ Founders Award for Excellence in Journalism. He was recognized for his contributions over a 35-year career as a reporter, editor and columnist at The Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune and The Washington Post. He supervised the Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait at The Post, where he now writes a column on global politics and economics.

“David Ignatius’ work stands out for the insights he offers on the most important international issues of the day,” said James Rousmaniere, Jr., editor and president of The Keene Sentinel in New Hampshire, who presented the award. Rousmaniere announced that ICFJ will create the David Ignatius Award for International Reporting. In 2011, ICFJ will launch a special program, funded by Ford Foundation, to give minority U.S. journalists the skills and experience they need to report on international issues. The participant with the best project will receive the David Ignatius Award at a reception next year.

Twitter Co-Founder Biz Stone

Also new this year was the James F. Hoge, Jr. Innovation Award, given to Biz Stone. For the past eight years, Hoge has served as ICFJ’s chairman, leading the organization through a period of tremendous growth. ICFJ estimates that it now assists at least 5,000 professional and citizen journalists and media managers each year. The innovation award honors pioneers, like Biz Stone, who use technology to promote the free flow of news and the open exchange of ideas.

“Biz has spent his career working on projects dedicated to the open exchange of information, and there is no denying the tremendous impact Twitter has had on the world of news,” said Ben Deutsch, the Coca-Cola Company’s vice president of corporate communications, who presented the award.

Accepting his award, Stone said journalists were among the first to realize the potential of Twitter’s instant information network. For example, he said, NBC’s Ann Curry understood there were people in Haiti tweeting while the earth was still moving, during the quake this year. Twitter provides speed, he said, “but it is your commitment to providing context and telling the whole story that makes our relationship whole.”

In Stone’s honor, ICFJ will support an innovative project that promotes the free flow of news and ideas in the developing world. This year, the award will go to Knight Fellow Shubhranshu Choudhary, who launched a pioneering mobile news service for Indians who never before had access to timely information in their local language. The donation in Stone’s honor will be used to develop a new device that will make it possible for citizens in remote areas to call a local number – instead of a long-distance one – to receive the news. This new technology will significantly expand the reach of this news service.

Knight International Journalism Award Recipient Daniela Arbex

John Bracken, director of digital media for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, presented the 2010 Knight International Journalism Awards to Brazilian investigative journalist Daniela Arbex and Indonesian radio news pioneer Tosca Santoso. “The winners are not only top-notch journalists, but their work has had impact,” Bracken said.

Daniela Arbex, an investigative report for Tribuna de Minas in Juiz de Fora, Brazil, exposed government corruption and the harm it caused vulnerable Brazilians. Arbex’ revelations forced a corrupt mayor out of office, stopped the closure of a charity hospital, ushered humane conditions in a psychiatric hospital, and won the release of a man wrongly convicted of rape.

“My stories are about the invisible victims of violence and injustice,” Arbex said in accepting the award. Despite death threats, she persists in fighting for the rights of the abused. “I dedicate this award to journalists throughout the world who leave their houses every day to fight for a better society.” Indonesian honoree Tosca Santoso started the first independent national radio network – KBR68H – in his country in 1999. It now reaches 22 million listeners in 10 Asian countries and Australia. Santoso used satellite technology to send his signal across Indonesia’s 17,500 islands, and he has set up toll-free phone lines for listeners to call – or text – in their comments. Now, Russia, Nepal and Pakistan are looking into launching similar radio networks.

Knight International Journalism Award Recipient Tosca Santoso

In a video, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent her praise for the work of ICFJ and this year’s award winners. “It is my privilege to salute the International Center for Journalists and the critical work you are doing to promote pioneering journalism around the world,” Clinton said. “In many countries today it takes real courage to be a journalist. You are carrying on the proudest tradition of your profession, and you are making the world a better place for all of us.”

The evening event, with an audience of about 500 journalists, business leaders and diplomats, included an auction of photos by the world’s leading photojournalists, led by ABC/WJLA 7 News Anchor Leon Harris. The images document pivotal world events of recent years – from the Fireside Summit of President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, to the release of Nelson Mandela from a South African jail, to the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.