Editor Column: Journalism moves into the spotlight
“Journalism wins an Oscar!” my boss posted on Facebook Sunday night.
For those like me who did not watch the 88th Academy Awards on Sunday, the post regarded the “Best Picture” award won by “Spotlight.”
And for those completely disconnected, “Spotlight” is the drama detailing the story of the Boston Globe investigative team in its reporting about sexual abuse by Catholic priests. The reporting received some of the highest journalistic accolades and more importantly it exposed a travesty within an institution so central in the lives of many people.
I’ve been itching to see the film since I first heard of it last fall, and I finally watched it last week after purchasing it — the first movie I’ve purchased since my freshman year of college. It did not disappoint.
Whether or not it was better than the “Revenant,” which I found to be a decent flick but one that struggled to keep my waning interest with films and television in general, is trivial. Again, I did not watch the awards, but I’ll come back to that.
I doubt I would have gravitated toward this film were it not for my profession. Luckily many others, who do not make their peanuts doing this thing we call journalism, saw the film and liked it. CNN’s Reliable Sources, an excellent weekly show focused on the media, discussed the film earlier on Sunday, including the prospects that it could be a 21st century “All the President’s Men.”
I won’t waste words explaining that one — but if you are unfamiliar with it, you should really re-evaluate your cultural intake — but many journalists have described the impact of seeing “All the President’s Men.” It inspired a generation of journalists, and some guests on Sunday’s Reliable Sources speculated if “Spotlight” could be a “shot in the arm” for an industry struggling to find financial stability in the digital age, as well as regain favor and trust with the public.
A Gallup poll in September 2015 detailed just how bad things are between the public and the media.
“Four in 10 Americans say they have ‘a great deal’ or ‘a fair amount’ of trust and confidence in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately and fairly,” the Gallup report states. “This ties the historical lows on this measure set in 2014 and 2012. Prior to 2004, slight majorities of Americans said they trusted the mass media, such as newspapers, TV and radio.”
Translation: Things are not good.
While it is not out of the question that “Spotlight” and its portrayal of dogged journalists uncovering a scandal of epic proportions could sow the seeds for an improved relationship with the public, I worry that more than anything it will create nostalgia for a print media ecosystem that, by every account I’ve read or heard, no longer exists.
Several people have shared their thoughts on the film with me.
They ask: “Why don’t newspapers do more investigative stories?”
The simple answer is that many newsrooms across the county have seen cuts. Papers are being asked to do more with less — a fact that is not conducive to having employees spend weeks or even months on one story.
Obviously, I was not a working journalist in 2001 and 2002, when the Spotlight team, which still exists, reported the story on abuse in the church, but the contrast between the newsroom portrayed in the film and my own experiences has stuck with me.
It’s almost impossible to fathom that less than 15 years ago, journalists at bigger papers headed to the in-house library, some staffed with librarians, to do research. I remember having to go to the library once during my internship in Cincinnati. The lights were off — actually I don’t ever remember seeing the lights on — and the books, periodicals and other materials sat alone.
Of course this is a small aspect of the businesses and the libraries would likely still be buzzing were it not for the Internet. But while small, it’s a tectonic shift considering it occurred in such a short period of time, and that is why I’m optimistic about the future.
It’s not a hope that spurred nostalgia will somehow increase the support for the work we do; it’s that the industry will eventually find a way to take advantage of these seismic shifts, rather than struggle to find a way to keep up and compensate.
Until then, I suppose we’ll have to settle for nostalgia — pass the popcorn.
Ryan Hoffman does not care about the Academy Awards or your opinion on them. However, you can still contact him at 970-685-2103 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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