The following piece, written by the editorial editors, reflects the majority opinion of the editorial board.
At this year’s Oscars, the Academy broke its tradition of awarding Best Picture to movies about the entertainment industry — think “The Artist,” “Argo” and “Birdman” — and, instead, recognized “Spotlight” as the best of the year.
For those who don’t know, “Spotlight” tells the story of the investigative team at The Boston Globe who first alerted the public of the slew of sexual abuse cases perpetrated by Catholic priests across the country, and the actions by the Catholic church as a whole to cover up these crimes.
While we are excited the film received this award, we are even happier to see the field of journalism acknowledged as an important fourth estate, necessary for society to function successfully.
The first obligation of journalism is to the truth. Honoring this rule, “Spotlight” stays consistent with real events.
The film doesn’t make the journalists seem like celebrities — there is nothing glamorous about spending the night in a cramped basement office, sorting through cardboard boxes full of documents.
We see the team going from house to house, note-pads in hand, trying to interview community members, only to get door after door slammed in their faces.
We get to see the reporters at home, whether that means alone, in a small empty apartment, or pacing the kitchen of a middle class house, worrying about their children and the dangers of the world.
We witness the heartbreaking moment when Sacha decides she can’t go to church with her Nana that week because of what she has learned.
These situations are not romanticized. They are authentic, gritty scenes of real life.
Furthermore, the movie doesn’t rely on soft subplots. There are no love stories between characters. There is no unnecessary violence, no fist fights and no fiery explosions.
“Spotlight” focuses on what actually happened, and sets a great example of what is possible when journalism is done properly. It shows what can be accomplished when journalists are willing to take risks, commit completely to a story and have the patience to wait until just the right moment to publish.
We identified a few qualities present in the Spotlight reporters that are necessary to be a good journalist.
Fearlessness. Going against a powerful institution like the Catholic Church isn’t easy, especially in a devout city like Boston, where the fight wasn’t just against the church but against popular opinion. People didn’t want to believe something horrible could happen within an organization they trusted. But journalists cannot base their stories on what people want to hear; they have to be aware of what people need to know.
Perseverance. The Spotlight reporters faced failure numerous times. They challenged noncompliant sources and proved why they needed to share what they knew. The reporters sifted through records, reached out to victims, made phone calls and set up meetings, all in an effort to discover the truth.
Empathy. During interviews with sexual abuse victims, the reporters had to be patient and compassionate. When Michael Rezendes sits down with Mitchell Garabedian, he opens up about his own feelings to be persuasive and get the lawyer to cooperate. Though reporters must not become too emotionally invested in stories, the Spotlight team proves that involvement is critical to good reporting. Establishing relationships motivates reporters to write the best story possible, because they owe it to their subjects to tell the story right.
Discipline. Despite uncovering over a dozen abuse cases by multiple priests, the Spotlight reporters held their story until they found out more. They were eventually able to prove that the entire Archdiocease of Boston was involved in the cover-up of over 100 cases. While the team wanted desperately to expose the scandal, they knew it was more important to ensure an infallible story the church could not dispute.
We, as young adults, have trouble remembering what the Catholic church was like before this scandal — when its reputation was untarnished and its teachings were regarded as absolute. For most of our lives, there has always been some knowledge of the church’s past offenses planting seeds of doubt in the minds of millions.
This shift in views is because of the reporters at The Boston Globe.
“Spotlight” demonstrates the social change high-quality reporting is capable of. It shows not only the powerful effects of publishing a hard-hitting story, but also the long and difficult process it takes to get there. It shows not just what journalism can be, but what it always should be.