11 – Spotlight

Modern day muckraking

Spotlight boggled my mind. If you don’t feel uncomfortable by the fact that the Catholic Church covered up child abuse and molestation, don’t talk to me. The fact that so many people knew what was happening, and they did nothing irks me more than Trump getting elected.

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.”

Spotlight retold a story of modern muckraking and the impact journalism is capable of. Aside from praising the film, Spotlight offers any aspiring journalist a guidebook to the various obstacles of investigative journalism, how they can overcome them, and often how they cannot. Spotlight retold a story of modern muckraking and the impact journalism is capable of.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle the Spotlight team faced in publishing their first exclusive story, was simply the power of the Catholic Church and people’s willingness to protect their faith despite the disgusting allegations.

Lawyers protected child molesters and conducted their work in a way that settlements were paid under the table instead of in court. Of course, with these under the table settlements a confidentiality agreement had to be signed forcing those abused to stay silent. The Church convinced the families whose children had been abused to keep quiet. The Catholic community urged families whose children had been abused to keep quiet. Even though church and state are separate, the church still demonstrated its power in covering up important court documents that exposed the abuse.

All of those events placed a huge restriction on how the Spotlight team was able to conduct their research and gather evidence for the article. They overcame many of those obstacles with strict determination and a level of perseverance that I don’t think many people have.

Asking someone to describe how a priest molested them is not an easy thing to do. When people were hesitant to talk, both Michael Rezendes and Sacha Pfeiffer demonstrated different ways to get the information they needed. Rezendes was adamant on getting detailed information (no matter how dark) and was able to do so by constantly reminding his interview subject how important the story was. Pfeiffer on the other hand used more of a personal method. She would first try and relate to the person she was interviewing. She was just as careful to get every detail, but her approach was more personal than Rezendes.

Spotlight also highlights how difficult data collection can be for journalists. The Spotlight team had computers at their disposal, but a lot of the information they needed wasn’t available at their fingertips. There was no database for what they were looking for. Even once they found the church archives, they had to highlight, page-by-page, years of information and then organize the data on spreadsheets. Not to mention, there were only four of them!

The Spotlight team also had to be extremely careful as to when they published the story. While there wasn’t much pressure near the beginning, once the sealed court documents went public, there was a chance that another news source would publish a less developed story and compromise Spotlight’s investigation. In order for the story to have the largest impact, they had to wait until every possible detail was included.

Among other obstacles was the impact of 9/11. Some events are so huge that the news has no option but to drop everything and focus on it. Sadly, the Spotlight story was deemed less important and had to be put on the back burner until everything else calmed down. I can only assume this problem has gotten worse for modern day journalists as technology allows us to know what is happening everywhere in the world. What might seem important one minute could be completely irrelevant a minute later. I’m sure investigative journalism has taken a big hit over the years because of this issue.

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