The movie Spotlight portrays an accurate picture of a current day newspaper, particularly from the view of investigative journalism. The idea of having a team of four investigative journalists working together to form the Spotlight team could only happen at a newspaper in a larger city where there are additional resources available. It can take months, and sometimes years to develop a large scope investigative series of stories such as the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in the greater Boston area. A problem of keeping a yearlong investigative story moving along yet keeping it private is at best problematic. The movie also touched upon how specifically the Spotlight team needed to develop meaningful stories that will engage their readers.
The movie plot involved a new editor coming to the newspaper and how he is viewed as an outsider even though he was from the Boston area. The office politics of a new editor coming in and wanting to put his own mark on the paper is realistic and not only applicable to journalism, but could be for any communications field. Late in the movie, this new editor is seen coaching his journalists and telling them that writing about the abuse is important work. This type of motivation is really needed when people are working with such negative subjects.
Some of the journalism specific items I noted in the movie were the use of sources such as established contacts, former coworkers, and researching physical documents. Scrambling for deadlines was also mentioned. The 9/11 event and the impact to the Spotlight team seemed very realistic because of the scope of the national tragedy. When the documents were released to the courthouse, the movie did a good job explaining how the Spotlight team did not want “scooped” by the another newspaper.
The interviewing of the abuse victims was dealt with in a sensitive manner by the Spotlight journalists. You felt they had the best interests of the victims in mind even though they needed the information these people held internally. They showed how they needed to ask tough questions and even get the victims to describe actuals acts of abuse. The one victim described the abuse as both physical and spiritual abuse. The movie also linked sexual abuse and substance abuse for some of the victims.
Strictly from the research aspect of the Spotlight team, analysis, trending and data mining skills came into play especially when large quantities of data were uncovered. The team initially found trends in the data when a suspected priest was placed on sick leave. After further analysis of the collected data, they discovered there were actually multiple statuses suspected priests would be placed into besides sick leave. Researching church directories was the “ah-ha” moment for the Spotlight team.
It was unique how the moved showed how suing to have the sealed documents opened was viewed by the community as the newspaper suing the Catholic church. I would never have made that connection without the help of this movie. This view could be devastating for the newspaper since 53% of the Boston Globe’s subscribers are Roman Catholic. Management wanted to be sensitive to the fact that ostracizing readers could impact the newspaper financially, while at the same time they wanted Catholics to know what was going on with priests in their state. Getting those court documents unsealed showed the abuse was more widespread than the paper anticipated. This made the project grow in scope and in the amount of time it would take to get to press with the first story. The editor mentioned how he wanted his reporters to go after the system and not after individual priests. I feel this made the movie more realistic.
The one reporter showed how it was not possible to leave his work at work. He knew the one home in his neighborhood was a supposed treatment location for the priests. He felt the duty to warn his own children immediately and sought ways to warn others of this facility. I felt this was in line with what Allison Everett mentioned about reporters not having a counselling resource like police departments.
Another realistic item was when it was revealed that the paper had much of the story handed to them almost twenty years earlier. One person made the decision to allow a single story about the abuse to run back in 1993 and never had follow-up stories to supplement it. I imagine this can happen in any type of journalism forum. After the first story runs, a story which includes phone numbers for people to report abuse, the journalists become swamped with calls from more victims. It is easy to see how a wide spread story like the one in this movie actually morphed into over 600 articles spanning multiple years.
Overall I feel this movie did a great job in showing the many various struggles an investigative journalist can encounter in their career. These struggles can be in the office, out in the field and internally.