Spotlight Oscar gives journalism needed boost

Spotlight stars (from left) Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Brian d'Arcy.
Spotlight stars (from left) Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Brian d'Arcy.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

NEW YORK • Less than two months ago, Boston Globe reporters and editors were delivering thousands of copies of their own newspaper, mollifying subscribers who were upset by sporadic delivery service.

But, on Monday, their jobs seemed so much more glamorous, as the newsroom celebrated the Academy Award triumph of Spotlight, the film based on the paper's Pulitzer-Prize winning series exposing the Catholic Church's cover-up of priest abuse.

"Everybody's walking a little bit taller" in the newsroom, Mr Brian McGrory, the paper's editor, said, describing the mood as "universally great".

The buoyant mood over the Best Picture award for Spotlight last Sunday extended beyond the paper's Boston offices, said Mr Walter Robinson, the editor known as Robby and played by Michael Keaton in the film. He said he received messages from colleagues in the business, saying their newsrooms "erupted in applause" over the award.

Twitter also lit up with rallying cries in favour of journalism writ large, including exhortations to subscribe "to the print edition of your local newspaper", "buy an app" or donate to an investigative reporting non-profit organisation.

Mr Robinson, who led The Globe's investigative team, said that the award was a "needed shot in the arm for journalism" and a reminder to the public on "good reporting and the difference it can make in people's lives - particularly the lives of people who have no one else to speak for them but us".

The boost comes as financial pressures in the digital age have forced many newspapers to reduce their staff and cut back on resources, and when public attacks on journalism are an increasingly common ingredient of presidential campaign stump speeches.

The Globe has not been exempt from these pressures, with cuts in its foreign bureaus and all national bureaus except Washington, said Ms Sacha Pfeiffer, a member of the team who is played by Rachel McAdams.

In the face of these pressures, maintaining subscriber loyalty takes on even more importance. So when The Globe changed delivery services early this year, leading to problems in getting papers to people's doors, staff members quickly volunteered to add delivery routes to their normal duties.

"It's such a rough time for the print industry that it's the best possible time for a movie that celebrates journalism," Ms Pfeiffer said.

Still, staff at The Globe and other media outlets wondered if the celebration would translate to action, meaning more paid print and digital subscribers and, in the case of non-profit organisations, more donations.

ProPublica, a New York-based non-profit organisation, sent out a fund-raising e-mail on Monday with the subject line, "A day to celebrate investigative journalism".

Ms Pfeiffer said she hoped the film would help encourage a new wave of aspiring journalists to join the ranks. She said she had been speaking for several months at journalism schools and other locations with her Spotlight colleagues about the team's work. Young people all over the country have said that because of the film, they want to become journalists, she said. "But I wonder, will jobs be there?"

Mr McGrory called Hollywood success "one of the most visible platforms you can get in this country", but questioned whether journalism would realise any financial benefit from it.

"We don't know how to monetise this award to fund more investigative reporting," he said. "But we already know, even before the Oscars, that it has created all sorts of goodwill among readers, a greater understanding of what we do and a renewed appreciation for investigative reporting. The entire industry benefits from that."

As of Monday afternoon, the most viewed story on The Globe's website - "by a long shot", said Mr McGrory - was the Spotlight team's first story on priest abuse, first published on Jan 6, 2002.

"Our reporting is getting a new life because of this movie," Ms Pfeiffer said. "It's the power of Hollywood - in a good way."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2016, with the headline 'Spotlight Oscar gives journalism needed boost'. Print Edition | Subscribe