Tuesday, December 1, 2015

"Spotlight": Take 2

Consider this a sort of addendum slash second take on what will undoubtedly be a front-runner for 2015 Best PIcture, “Spotlight.” Please first read Bob’s thoughts, as they are potent and an important first acknowledgement.

Bob’s attention went to the dangers of intermingling church and state, because that ultimately is the crime at the heart of the movie, an observation of how protection of the infallible church had become so ingrained in a people that they find themselves quietly endorsing actions that go against everything they claim to espouse as Catholics (or just as decent, moral human beings).

For me, however, the movie served a second invaluable reminder: in our impatient, instant gratification, money-grabbing modern world, real and deep investigative reporting is an endangered species on the verge of extinction.

Nothing in “Spotlight” comes as a surprise to the viewer. The outcome is not unlike “Titanic,” in that we know where it’s going, and we know how it ends, yet the journey getting there is so mesmerizing -- and yes, shocking despite every effort in the movie to avoid melodrama -- that when the statistics appear on screen to close out the movie -- the total number of accused priests, the number of cities in which scandals and wrongdoing have been uncovered -- it still boggles the mind and burdens the heart.

Without question, there should be shame in how it required an outsider of both Boston and Christianity to spark the work that resulted in the series of exposes that actually managed to create real change (we hope… or we cross our fingers and pray) inside an ancient organization. Executive Editor Marty Baron lights the spark, but the gritty, lengthy, persistent work requires three reporters and an editor who know the city, who have experience asking difficult questions and where to go when all roads appear closed.

That is, the work required an outsider to start the ball rolling, but it required insiders to get the investigation across the proverbial goal line. And that goal line was a long, loooong drive full of drives that were "3 yards and a cloud of dust." It took more than a year of their lives!

So yes, while the movie reminds us that so many remained silent, including a newspaper full of people, it’s equally important to note that by breaking that streak, these reporters and editors saved untold hundreds, possibly thousands, possibly thousands upon thousands, of children from the hands of some horrifying, life-altering experiences.

Now more than ever, I would argue that no profession -- not a single one -- requires a greater calling or conviction than that of a newspaper reporter or editor. I was talking to a reporter who recently left the profession, and he and I agreed that Marty Baron, the top dog of the Boston Globe’s newsroom during these events, might have made between $100,000-150,000. Max. That means the highest-paid person on one of the country’s 20 most influential newspapers in a very expensive-to-live city barely makes enough to live all that well. And trust me, the salaries sink quickly from there. Most reporters in even the larger cities are lucky to see $40,000 a year.

No one is a newspaper reporter for the money. Or the free time. The hours are brutal and all over the place, and if a contact calls you at midnight wanting to go on record, you grab your pen and you get to work. Divorce is rampant. Alcoholism is rampant. (But not drug use, because that s*it is expensive.) It’s difficult to keep friends because eventually you write something they don’t like, or expose a truth they prefer hidden. In short, it’s a nasty and brutish profession that requires the combination of numerous unappealing personal qualities, a unique sort of interpersonal skill, and a real commitment to a very small number of ethics and guidelines.

1 Corinthians Chapter 12 talks about gifts. It talks about the parts of the body. The chapter is the favorite of many Christians, because it reminds us of the vital importance of difference, of diversity, not just along racial or religious lines, but along talents, professions, hobbies and personality profiles. In every way, we are a better humanity the more ways we can all bring something slightly unique to the table.

So, in a way, I believe the best reporters are, albeit unwittingly, the foot of the body of Christ, the lowliest part that gets no respect, no real reward, and very little love. And I believe God called those reporters, those feet, to rise up and kick the ever-loving s*it out of the head of that body. To concuss it so severely that healing required a trip to the hospital and a time of recovery.

And I worry what will happen to our collective body if we conclude, wrongly, that we have no need of those feet.

1 comment:

troutking said...

Great point! And it's hard to see smart, dedicated young people continuing to go into journalism as the numbers of even modestly paid positions continue to dwindle. As you say, it really is a serious problem.