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Making Sense Of The Journalists In 'Spotlight'


Journalists have been depicted in the movies since back in the days of The Front Page and Citizen Kane. But the grittiness of the profession may not have hit home for most people until the movie Spotlight, which  just won the Oscar for Best Picture. It portrays the Boston Globe’s investigation into widespread child sex abuse around Boston by numerous Roman Catholic priests.

The film highlights the Globe's "Spotlight" team - the oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative journalist unit in the U.S. They came up with records of 87 priests that indicated they may have molested children.

WUSF's Steve Newborn talks about the depictions of journalists with Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.


Check out a List of Journalism Movies from A-Z:
And a story from Poynter, After Sunday's Oscar win, 'Spotlight' journalists are ready to get back to work.
And a Fresh Air segment, Film Shines A 'Spotlight' On Boston's Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal:
Here's some insight from Kelly McBride:

  • "Spotlight seemed the least likely to win Best Picture because the movie was so true to the way real-life journalism happens that it lacked drama.

There was no office romance, the characters weren't made to seem very appealing or attractive. They were just normal people. There wasn't even a smoking gun.
I took my daughters to see it. And the observation one of them made was: There was a lot of talking on the phone in that movie."

  • "Spotlight was an accurate portrayal of journalism at its best. As a journalism movie it kind of breaks the mold.

You have a lot of movies about journalists acting sleazy, like Absence of Malice, where the Sally Field character sleeps with her source and carelessly publishes information that leads to someone's death. Or Shattered Glass, where a magazine reporter fabricates whole stories.

And then you have the serious movies about dramatic moments, like Good Night and Good Luck about the dawn of television journalism in the face of both business pressures and the age of McCarthyism or The Killing Fields, about a journalist trying to get his in-country fixer out of Cambodia as it falls.

And then there's the silly ones like Broadcast News or The Paper, where the journalism is really a backdrop for feel-good love stories."

  • "Spotlight is unique, but you can kind of see this movie as a bookend with that other great movie about great journalism, All the President's Men, which is of course about another set of frumpy reporters, the Washington Post's Woodward and Bernstein, whose investigation into the Watergate break-in of the DNC lead to the resignation of the president."


Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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