Among the things lost in the decay of some of our nation's best daily newspapers is long-form investigative journalism and, as a result, the public's hunger for the truth. There, dear moviegoer, lies the underlying moral of Spotlight, one of the finest American films about journalism and certainly one of the best movies of 2015. While critics and audiences continue to cheer Spotlight and its clarion warning of a culture without a robust fifth estate, our nation's media outlets–and particularly owners of daily newspaper chains–continue to push out fewer and shorter local news stories interspersed with advertiser-sponsored content. Some days, it's tough to tell one from the other and, as good journalism should, Spotlight's reminder of how things ought to be might piss off a discerning news consumer.
"The last 10 years have been pretty difficult on newspapers. The information they get isn't fact-checked or investigated," Spotlight co-screenwriter Josh Singer (The West Wing) told Boise Weekly on the red carpet of the North American premiere of at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. "And when readers get just some kind of random information coming at them, that's really not telling us what us need to know."
In 2001, there was plenty the citizens of Boston needed to know, "need" being the operative word. There were many people—including a few staffers at The Boston Globe—who felt the newspaper's team of investigative reporters, dubbed Spotlight, would impose to harsh a reality on their community if and when they exposed a systemic scandal of child sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests. Some argued Boston's storied link to the Catholic Church was too strong and too important to compromise. The reporting team from the Globe felt otherwise but instead of looking for a hero, they turned to each other for strength and direction. As a result, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Spotlight team's investigation had intense focus and clarity. Boston was knocked back on its heels by the series of articles, but the Globe reporters knew there were two forms of abuse to uncover: the sexual abuse committed by dozens of priests and the spiritual abuse perpetrated by a church-wide cover-up.
The stories were hard on the reporters, too. Investigative journalism takes time, resources and more often than not, doesn't win you many friends.
"We all want solid investigative journalism, but there are too few good investigative journalists out there," Mark Ruffalo, who portrays Globe journalist Michael Rezendes, told Boise Weekly on the Spotlight red carpet.
John Slattery (Mad Men), who plays Globe assistant managing editor Ben Bradlee Jr., said he hoped the film sparked something in viewers.
"[Making Spotlight] reminded me that so many local newspapers simply don't have the resources any more to commit to long-form investigative journalism," he told BW. In a large part, I hope Spotlight reminds the public how important investigative journalism is to the balance of a society by keeping an eye on what needs to be watched."
Slattery and Ruffalo are part of what is undeniably the best ensemble film cast of 2015 and includes Michael Keaton as Spotlight editor Walter Robinson, Liev Schreiber as Globe executive editor Martin Baron, Rachel McAdams as Globe reporter Sacha Pfeiffer and Stanley Tucci as Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian.
Unless my guess is wrong, Spotlight will compete neck-and-neck with The Martian for the Best Picture Oscar. One particular moment from Spotlight still burns in my memory: Deep into the film, a children's choir sings "Silent Night" during a Boston Catholic church Christmas pageant while we watch the Spotlight investigative team burning the midnight oil to put together the final pieces on a series of reports that will ultimately rock to the church to its foundation. As the children sing "All is calm, all is bright," we know nothing could be further from the truth.