Sometimes it takes an outsider to notice something everyone else doesn’t want to see.
It’s one of the curiosities of human behaviour; different people, given the same information, in the same context, will interpret that information completely differently. Setting aside one’s preconceptions and reporting a story with fairness and accuracy is the core challenge of journalism. Done right, it’s a powerful truth-finding tool and contributes to a just society.
Spotlight, the latest winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, demonstrates the power of long-term, investigative journalism to change the world. Based on a true story, it tells how the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe uncovered systematic, institutional abuse of children in the Catholic archdiocese of Boston.
It’s a film about the power of an outside perspective—the Spotlight team only began to investigate the archdiocese at the direction of their new editor Martin Baron (Liev Schreiber), “an unmarried man of the Jewish faith who hates baseball”. He’s an unusual addition to the Globe in the deeply Catholic, family-oriented and sports-mad town of Boston, and is incredulous at the paper’s failure to follow up on the accusation that a local priest has abused up to 20 children. As the team follows lead after lead they are shocked to discover the scale of the abuse, and that many people, including members of Spotlight itself, knew—or had an indication—but said nothing.
They were incurious about all the ways their familiar world troubled them, leaving the story unreported for years.
In this way, while Spotlight demonstrates the power and importance of investigative journalism, it is just as much a criticism of journalists as it is of Catholic hierarchy. Breaking this story would have been impossible without the discerning eye of people who did not fit into Irish-Catholic Boston society—the new editor, the survivors of abuse and Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) the Armenian lawyer fighting for them. Diversity is vital, not just for healthy news media, but for the wellbeing of every organisation and the society in which they operate.
This film has a poignant message to people everywhere, but given the ongoing Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the ongoing homogenisation of our national media, it is of particular significance in Australia.