It isn’t enough that Spotlight won Best Picture at the Oscars.
It should have won the Most Authentic Newsroom Depiction in Any Hollywood Movie, Ever, Award — at least if the journalists I know had a say.
I was among those who delighted in the drab styles sported by actors Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Michael Keaton in their portrayals of Boston Globe staffers investigating the Catholic priest scandal of the early 2000s.
Their button-down clothes and bad hair rang so refreshingly true — especially compared to the glamour-puss portrayals of journalists in films such as Up Close and Personal.
I could relate to everything, from the soccer-dad vehicles Spotlight reporters drove, to their average homes and work spaces stacked with vertical columns of paper and other clutter. As my teenage son said, “They sure got that right!” — and he would know.
He’s been in and out of the Advocate’s newsroom since he was a toddler — and it could still use a paint job.
I can also vouch for the veracity of the top-down conversations that happen between editors and reporters. The sometimes heated newsroom debates were highly realistic.
And the editors, of course, got the last word.
Among the things I most appreciate about Spotlight is that reporters were not depicted as a pack of hyenas, snapping questions at their victims/sources, while shoving microphones in their faces.
The reporters interviewing abuse victims were shown to be empathetic. In real life, we care enough about the people we interview to try to get their views across as accurately and compassionately as we can.
Most of the time, we succeed.
While the Globe staffers were often frustrated by the bureaucratic roadblocks they encountered, they conducted themselves ethically — unlike the female scribe who jumped into bed with her source in the Netflix series House of Cards.
It sounds goofy, even sanctimonious to say it, but real reporters are passionate about exposing injustices.
Although we go into journalism to make a positive change, the work ends up changing us.
This was memorably shown in a scene in which Ruffalo’s character, Mike Rezendes, reveals the underlying reason he flew into a rage when his editor delayed printing stories about the church cover-up. Walter Robinson (played by Keaton)
wanted to gather more evidence about pedophile priests being systematically moved to other parishes, where they could re-offend.
Rezendes, a lapsed Catholic, later admits to a colleague that he always thought he would return into the church fold. But now he’s lost faith in a fallible institution.
Admittedly, reporters are cynical creatures who delve into sticky issues many establishment figures would prefer to leave alone. But if our news stories are perceived as negative — they are necessarily so.
To run only positive articles would be to accept the authority line that everything is hunky-dory. Applying critical thought requires examining all sides of a story, which inevitably leads to talking to those with opposing opinions.
Perhaps the best thing about Spotlight is that it shows newspaper people are as human as anyone.
The Boston Globe was not timely in breaking the story of the church’s concealment of pedophile priests.
The paper had heard for five years previously, rumblings of a scandal but did not follow up. Some sources were written off as not credible.
An early story fell between the cracks, not because there was a news agenda to uphold the Catholic church’s reputation, but because reporters got busy and editors had their attention diverted by other projects.
What’s considered priority news is subjective. F
or as important as the church investigation proved to be, it was shelved for over a month as Globe investigators were sent to cover stories about terrorism in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
The longer I work in this industry, the more I realize that the public doesn’t really understand newspapers — or reporters.
That’s why I believe it’s becoming increasingly important to try to better explain what we do — especially at this transitional time when most large media corporations can no longer afford to have teams spending a year or more investigating a story for the public good.
Anyone who watches Spotlight has to believe there’s a higher purpose in maintaining a free press — even for the everyday coverage of local school boards, the business community and city council.
If your rights and freedoms aren’t directly affected, your taxes might be.