Last weekend (with no NFL playoff games on Sunday) I finally saw Spotlight, one of the films nominated for an Oscar for best picture of the year.
Its name refers to the Spotlight team of investigative reporters within the Boston Globe that had the luxury of taking weeks – even months – to research, then report on a story.
Their greatest coup was connecting the dots in 2002 to expose the Catholic Church’s wilful blindness to the sexual abuse perpetrated by as many as 80 Boston-area priests.
To watch this film is to be mortified at how the power of the archdiocese in Boston managed to silence other strong influences in the city. Everyone conspired to look the other way and the result was hundreds and hundreds of shattered lives for kids who had trusted their clergymen and were destroyed for doing so.
I frequently found it difficult to hold back the tears while watching this movie. It’s that disturbing a story and that powerful a film. There are no special effects, no car crashes – just an important story well told.
But when the movie ended, I realized I was getting emotional about more than just the story the Boston Globe was telling. I was also on the verge of crying for journalism.
After a few months in which hundreds of journalism jobs at the Toronto Star, Postmedia, the Guelph Mercury, CHCH-TV and Rogers have disappeared, I wondered whether the kind of enterprise reporting the Boston Globe had done would simply disappear as well.
The film shows the process of newsgathering, warts and all, but really puts a spotlight on what a small band of dedicated journalists can achieve. A generation ago, there was still a journalism business model that gave investigative teams the time and resources to be great. My fear is that we’re moving to a business model that only supports reporting on the 25 hottest celebrity pictures that almost broke the Internet (I’m not kidding – that’s a real thing) rather than who’s trying to get away with what at city hall, the provincial legislature, Parliament Hill or Bay Street.
I’m crossing my fingers that this next generation of young journalists attending journalism schools and working on campus newspapers across the country will figure all this out. There’s clearly still an appetite for good journalism, good stories, and good story-telling. But with so much free content now available, who’s going to pay to support the Spotlight teams of the future?
The good news is that plenty of people worldwide are thinking about this and determined to solve this puzzle. Tomorrow, the Canadian Journalism Foundation holds one of its regular J-Talks in Toronto to consider this issue with publishers Phillip Crawley of the Globe and Mail and John Cruickshank of the Toronto Star and Pierre-Elliott Levasseur, chief operating officer of La Presse.
New and old media everywhere are tossing ideas against the wall and seeing what sticks. Online entities such as Vice, BuzzFeed and Politico have figured out how to be profitable while making up new rules as they go along.
In addition, the new environment seems to favour publicly funded organizations such as ours at TVO. Because we don’t depend on advertiser support to keep the lights on, we’re able to put forward good, serious content, both on television and online.
Having said all that, I sure hope we figure this out soon. Not for me. But for all the 20-somethings who dream of doing great, meaningful journalism. If we can’t figure it out, then the tears really should begin to flow.
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