I missed the keynote at ONA 15 last year so I didn’t get a chance to see Josh Singer, the screen writer of Spotlight, on stage interviewing the original members of the Boston Globe Spotlight team (Matt Carroll, Sacha Pfeiffer, Michael Rezendes, and Walter Robinson) that were the subject of the now Oscar-winning film.
Having just seen the movie last weekend, I can now put this talk into context and it’s fascinating. We get an inside look into early efforts in data journalism and a behind the scenes look at what it was like for the team that uncovered the scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the Boston Catholic Archdiocese.
While challenging, there is real value in holding back a story until you have the full picture, when you have irrefutable evidence to state your case. This may be difficult in 2016 and the Spotlight team is conscious of the rare moment in time where the masses did not have the benefit of an internet to cross-link scandals from one parish to the next but the newspaper was able leverage email and the Boston Globe website once they published to maximize distribution and impact of their story.
Twitter, Facebook, and the overall interconnectedness of everyone in 2016 would make it almost impossible to keep something this big under wraps for so long. The temptation and business pressure to publish first would be too great.
The first Spotlight stories had the team spent months putting the pieces together. That’s an expense that most journalistic institutions cannot spare to chase down a hunch, especially for a metro story. This movie comes at a time when many of the local news desks are being hollowed out and one would hope that the movie and it’s success helps underscore the importance of a strong, independent local press that is uniquely positioned to uncover these stories which hit closest to home.
For more reading, The Boston Globe has a special section where you can dive into all the original material including the original documents that were put online and the story that revealed the scandal in 2002.
Oh, the headline of this post comes from the lead into Marty Baron’s speech in the film about why they shouldn’t rush to publish what they initially uncovered, proof that almost 50 priests had been involved.
I think that’s the bigger story. We need to focus on the institution, not the individual priests. Practice and policy; show me the church manipulated the system so that these guys wouldn’t have to face charges, show me they put those same priests back into parishes time and time again. Show me this was systemic, that it came from the top, down.
Here’s Marty’s take on the film and the process by which it came together. I’m in ‘Spotlight’, but it’s not really about me. It’s about the power of journalism.
And here’s a screenshot of the email from Marty to Walter Robinson that was in the presentation from ONA (sorry that it’s blurry, it’s a screen capture from the video).