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In 2007, two young Hollywood producers approached a team of investigative reporters at The Boston Globe, an American daily newspaper based in Boston, Massachusetts, with a plan to make a movie about their work uncovering decades of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and the systemic cover-ups of the misdeeds by their superiors.

Tom McCarthy, who directed and co-wrote the film with Josh Singer, spent hours interviewing the reporters, who thought a movie on print journalism stood little chance. How could reading documents, making phone calls and typing on computers match the heroics of say, someone surviving a bear attack or a car crash? How could months of reporting be made into a two-hour movie? But McCarthy and Singer did it, and did it well.

“Spotlight” was released worldwide to critical acclaim, and after winning best picture at the recent Oscars, it’s come to wider notice. People are flocking theatres everywhere. Matt Carroll, one of the journalists portrayed in the movie, remembers the experience of watching it for the first time in an article. “It’s wonderful because it tells a compelling story about the survivors of clergy sexual abuse in a sensitive, non-graphic way...It’s also wonderful because it shows the power of investigative journalism, through the tedious grind of slowly building a major story, thread by thread.”

He recalled how back in the early 2000s, The Boston Globe team worked for months on the first story – four reporters meeting with people, who had been abused by priests, for 20 or so weeks. It was a big investment, and it paid off. Over the next year, the team expanded to 10, and wrote 600 stories. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Public service in 2003, their work leading to other news organisations uncovering similar scandals across the globe.

The reporters hope the release of the movie helps another generation of survivors of sexual abuse. As we know now, it is a worldwide phenomenon. Boston just happened to be where the stories started. The city was no different than the hundreds of other places around the world where the abuse and cover-ups occurred.

The movie can be gritty and somewhat dark, but in the end it’s hopeful. It is also a love song to investigative reporting, that has, unfortunately, taken a beating over the past decade or so. As Matt Carroll, who now runs the Future of News initiative at the MIT Media Lab since leaving the Boston Globe in 2013, explained: “There’s a couple of reasons for that. First, the financial woes hitting newsrooms mean there are simply fewer bodies trying to fill news holes. Secondly, the era of Tweeting the news in a voracious 24/7 news cycle puts heavier emphasis on shorter, shallower reporting. For those reasons and others, there seems to be many fewer reporters doing investigative work, which by its very nature is labor-intensive. A story can take a reporter, or team of reporters, days, weeks, or even months to complete. That’s a lot of resources to put on the shelf for a long period when there are tweets to be tweeted. “

But, let there be no doubt that news organizations that do the best investigations, on issues that resonate with their readers, will do best in the long-term. It’s a central theme of “Spotlight”.

Go, watch it!

-- Editor

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