‘Spotlight’ team talks investigative journalism ahead of Oscars
Yenal Bilgici“Spotlight,” which was named best picture at this year’s Oscars, has already been hailed as one of the best ever movies on journalism. The movie covers the story of the Boston Globe’s investigative Spotlight unit, which earned the daily the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for its reporting on child sex abuse in the Boston area by Roman Catholic priests.
Daily Hürriyet spoke to the Spotlight team, including Martin Baron, currently the executive editor of The Washington Post, Walter V. Robinson, chief of the Spotlight team at the time, and the only woman reporter of the team, Sacha Pfeiffer, as they shared their thoughts on investigative journalism today and the road ahead.
Baron said that many news organizations understood the significance of investigative journalism, while also noting his satisfaction over the film’s resonation in Turkey amid pressure on media in the country.
“There is no question that investigative reporting is threatened. That is because news organizations have fewer resources today than they had in the past. They are cutting staff, including investigative reporters. Real investigative reporting takes time, it takes money and it takes enormous effort and dedication. Many news organizations are reluctant to commit resources of that sort, given the expense and the possible negative reaction. However, I do believe that many news organizations, particularly here in the United States, recognize that investigative reporting is central to our mission as journalists. At a time when the public is raising questions about journalistic responsibility, I strongly believe that the most irresponsible thing we can do is to abandon our role in holding powerful institutions and individuals accountable. That mission of discovering the truth and telling the truth is the essence of what real journalism is. It is central to our brand, to our identity and it represents our soul. I believe that most readers expect that of us. They insist on it. And if we do not fulfill that mission, those readers will abandon us. Readers will walk away from us if we do not remain faithful to our central mission as journalists,” Baron said.
Baron also added that a good newspaper was one which fulfilled its principal mission: Telling the truth.
“A good newspaper is one that day-in and day-out fulfills its central mission. The Washington Post has had a set of principles since the 1930s, and the essence of a good newspaper is articulated in the first principle: The first mission of a newspaper is to tell the truth as nearly as the truth may be ascertained. If we fulfill that mission - along with telling stories in compelling ways with text and images - we have a good newspaper,” he said, adding that being successful on the Internet brings power with the help of video, audio and social media in today’s digital world.
“If that is where readers are, that is where we must be,” he added.
Robinson meanwhile pointed to the significance of investigative journalism, saying that holding institutions accountable was the priority in a democratic society.
“The future looks grim. But it need not. Many editors have cut out investigative reporting because it is expensive to do. They think it is a luxury we can no longer afford. I say it is a necessity that we cannot afford to do without. Holding powerful institutions and individuals accountable is our most important priority in a democratic society. If we as journalists do not do that, no one will. Without strong and aggressive reporting, government becomes corrupt and the public is ill-served,” he said.
Lastly, Pfeiffer said investigative journalism was an “endangered species,” while pointing to the inspirations of the movie for future generations and the public.
“I think investigative journalism is definitely an endangered species because it requires financial resources that fewer and fewer media outlets have. But I hope this movie makes editors, publishers and the general public realize that investigative reporting is some of the most important journalism of all, and the type of reporting they should most preserve. It requires the support and patience of editors willing to allow reporters to spend months or even more than a year on the story, but the payoff can be enormous. We’re getting lots of feedback that this movie is inspiring many young people to become reporters, but I also hope it inspires the public to buy a daily newspaper, since that revenue is what supports the work we do,” she said.