The “Spotlight” movie is, of course, a re-imagining of true events, but if you’ve ever wondered what journalism in action looks like, this is a pretty dead-on, example.
How does a team of reporters prove gross misconduct within the Catholic Church? Well, the short answer? Lots and lots of sources.
There were so many sources used throughout this investigation that it’s almost too many to count. Not only did the movie show you all of the victims, the team talked to, but all of the stored sources they relied on to go to print.
It started with the morgue. Hundreds of clippings from years past; everything related to the subject of abuse and the church. And after that, even more, clippings.
I’m not sure which sources I would say were the most key for the investigation, the stored sources, or the in-person interviews with victims, people associated with the Church, and lawyers. Not only did the team interview these people, sometimes it was more than once.
Phil Saviano, Mitch Garabedian, Eric MacLeish; these were all repeat sources that were fundamental in advancing their story and helping to uncover how toxic the system was in the Church.
Most of the interviews they did were in person. Whether they walked around Boston neighborhoods, interviewing victims, or “bumped” into sources on the street, there seemed to be an urgency in what they were doing. So, if they could help it, every interview was face to face.
Now looking back on it, how impersonal would it be to talk to a victim about abuse over the phone? Especially if that’s your first time speaking with them?
The amount of time they spent researching, is really something that paid off. The moment when they realized a pattern of priests going on “sick leave” after 2 or 3 years, was just another example of their attention to detail. Catching on to that propelled them even further into the investigation, and gave them something solid to work with: numbers.
Speaking of paying attention to detail, another perhaps overlooked part of journalism is a personal observation. When they were speaking with sources, you could see how at some point they all observed something about their interviewee that would help them ask the right question, or even make a judgment call.
I think about Robbie after the first time they met with Phil Saviano. He could tell that Saviano had an ‘agenda.’ Though it was a good one, he still observed how determined and maybe desperate Phil was.
In the middle of the movie, Michael wouldn’t have had his ‘a-ha!’ moment about the sealed documents had he not gauged Garabedian’s demeanor and ultimately asked him to tell him, ‘the half of it.’
So much of what led the team to find that next source or clue was just observing, and reading between the lines of what information was given to them.
All of these three elements truly came together to not only put out a great story, but something that potentially could’ve saved the well-being of many children.