In what may ultimately be the finest movie about journalism ever made, Spotlight won the 2015 Academy Award for Best Picture as well as for Best Original Screenplay. This film has sparked conversations that go in many different directions.
The obvious one is the fact that Catholic bishops did not remove sex offenders from ministry and kept placing these deranged predators into an ideal situations for them to molest innocent children. 10 years after the scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston, the stories of sex abuse by clergy are still being written. It is good to see leaders within the Catholic Church embrace the movie and the work of The Boston Globe’s investigative unit which won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Service. When Michael Keaton returned to his hometown of Pittsburgh for a special screening of the film sponsored by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bishop David Zubik was there. His presence was called “gutsy” by Keaton.
The other conversation is about the state of journalism today. In his Op-Ed in the USA Today William F. Baker pointed out that the National Catholic Reporter had been covering the story of clergy sex abuse and its cover-up in the Catholic Church for 17 years before The Boston Globe, “The NCR’s work embodies the virtues of robust print journalism, especially investigative reporting…And in an era when economic pressure has forced general interest publications to lay off their specialty reporters, we need niche publications such as the NCR more than ever, to pursue the truth and provide context and deeper understanding when crises become common knowledge.” Bob Smietana on Acts of Faith, The Washington Post’s religion blog, offers this interesting fact, “Not long after the first set of stories ran in early 2002, then-Globe religion reporter Michael Paulson joined the Spotlight team. His expertise about the Catholic Church proved essential, Spotlight editor Walter Robinson later said. ‘One of the things that made our coverage so much more distinctive than just being investigative revelations was Mike’s ability to step back and bring the whole Church into the context of the story,’ Robinson said.” Smietana is the immediate past president of the Religion Newswriters Association, and has this to say about the ‘God beat’, “But life on the religion beat is uncertain these days. While there are more people writing about religion, and enormous interest in the topic, there are fewer full-time pros on the beat, especially at newspapers. Many of those newspapers have dropped the religion beat or farmed it out to freelancers. Many religion writers cover a second beat at the same time.” RNA is trying to change that one newspaper at a time, but the process is slow.
When it comes to the film Spotlight, I will leave the final words to Justin Chang, Chief Film Critic for Variety, “‘Spotlight’ doesn’t bellow, harangue or manipulate; nor does it sensationalize, demonize or deify. It recognizes that humility, in art as well as in life, is not just attractive but authoritative. In every scene it exemplifies the calm intelligence of its subjects, and their mission becomes the movie’s own: the dogged, no-nonsense pursuit of truth and excellence, and a rigorous commitment to the art of storytelling. How wise of the Academy to follow suit.” Amen brother!