As a lifelong journalist, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie Spotlight because it shows the power of persistent reporting in the face of long odds. “Show them. Don’t tell them,” my city room professor and former Globe reporter Jon Klarfeld said in just about every class.
Journalists going up against the Catholic Church, a Boston institution beyond reproach, just didn’t seem like a winnable fight.
My favorite scene was when Globe reporters Matt Carroll (William d’Arcy James) and Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) put together of a list of 70 suspected predatory priests from a series of mundane directories. These priests made the reporter’s list because they were on sick leave and/or without a parish.
That’s the kind of tedious legwork if done enough usually pays off. There had to be a reason for so many sidelined priests. We now know these priests were shipped out by the church hierarchy because they molested children. Detectives will appreciate this movie, too.
Spotlight isn’t the usual attorney cleansed story that uses fake names and over dramatization. It’s not ‘inspired by real events.’ The names of priests, attorneys and reporters are very real and, predictably, at least one person in the movie has threatened to sue.
Even the Globe building was used, replete with its cavernous newsroom, presses, long corridors and delivery trucks piling out of the building in the early morning. I recognized the office where I interviewed in 2000 with then editor Matt Storin for the position of technology editor in the business section.
The job was mine if I wanted it, but a 100 mile round trip commute through some of Boston’s worst traffic compelled me to say no – the movie made that decision feel regretful (I was also freelancing a weekly column for WSJ.com at the time). The Globe is my hometown newspaper and I’ve read it since I could read. I take issue when my New York friends demean it as a backwater rag. You know who you are.
There are many noteworthy performances: Mark Ruffalo as the hotheaded but determined reporter Michael Rezendes; Stanley Tucci as the unapproachable attorney Mitchell Garbedian who alone had long carried the legal torch for the victims; and Liev Schreiber as soft-spoken ‘outsider’ Marty Baron who as the paper’s new top editor convinced the skeptical Globe Spotlight team to go after the story.
Look no further than this movie for why society needs investigation reporting and newspapers. The Internet may have wrecked the financial model for newspapers, but it has not touched a hair on journalism’s scalp.