Foley, who grew up in New Hampshire, came to journalism as a second career. With a bachelor’s degree in history from Marquette University and an MFA in creative writing from UMass, Amherst, Foley instructed inner-city students in Phoenix, AZ with Teach for America and then taught reading and writing to inmates at the Cook County Sheriff’s Boot Camp in Chicago. Then, at age 35, he enrolled in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
Asked what had drawn her son into reporting, Diane Foley said, “He had started writing fiction when at UMass, but afterward, the more he worked with the disadvantaged in Phoenix and Chicago, which he also was passionate about, he realized that the stories he wanted to tell were real stories—stories about people’s lives—and he saw journalism as a vehicle for talking about what’s really happening in the world.”
Foley participated in Medill’s conflict reporting course in Washington, DC, and after graduation, his first assignment was as an embed with the US Army’s 173rd Brigade and 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan. He loved it, and even after the kidnapping in Libya, remained committed to covering conflicts.
“Before leaving for Syria this last time, Jim said that he finally had found his passion,” said Foley’s father, John, on Friday. “Journalists play a vital role in bringing the light of truth to darkness of war and suffering. We are proud of Jim’s commitment to his work. Jim convinced us that on the ground reporting was one of the best ways to let the world know the truth.”
GlobalPost has a plan that centers on diplomatic efforts to secure Foley’s release in Syria, Balboni said. Currently, there is no plan for the US government to make a public appeal for Foley’s release, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did after he was captured in Libya, but the Foleys and GlobalPost say they’ve have had its full support. An online petition might prove helpful, Balboni added, but he discouraged people from mounting a direct letter-writing campaign to the Syrian government.
In trying to determine the best course of action, the four-year-old GlobalPost, whose only previous experience in the realm of hostage negotiations was Foley’s abduction in Libya, has relied primarily on the advice of the security experts it hired, but it has also relied on the experience of other outlets that have faced similar challenges.
“There are no road maps for dealing with a problem like this,” Balboni said. “There’s no way to be sure that anything you’re doing is right, but we have had extensive conversations with other news organizations that have faced kidnappings in Syria and with the journalist who have been kidnapped.”
Figuring who was holding Foley, and where, was only the first step, however. Now, his family and friends must secure his release. A panel of conflict reporters who spoke at Friday’s event, including three that had been taken hostage or prisoner, said that it is usually better to be dealing with a government, even a dictatorial one, than an autonomous militia or terrorist cell, but the situation remains delicate.
“Hopefully, we are close,” Balboni said. “The next few weeks will tell us exactly how close.”