Movie offers glimpses of what a real newsroom is like

There is a moment in the movie “Spotlight” — about the investigative team of reporters at The Boston Globe, who won a Pulitzer for reporting on the Catholic Church’s lackadaisical handling of child abusing priests — when one of the editors realizes he had had the gist of the story in his hands for years but had failed to pursue it.

It reminded me of the time my medical writer and I talked about how Louisiana tried to control medical costs by rationing hospital beds. The state would issue certificates of need. We thought that system not only ignored free market economics but was subject to being gamed and perhaps the paper should look into it.

The day to day breaking news never seemed to allow time for looking. A year and half later the governor was indicted for basically “selling” certificates of need.

When I walked out of the movie, I said, “There weren’t enough neckties,” but here is actor Michael Keaton with the editor he portrayed. (AP photo)

That reporter was the same one who had come to me six months after starting work saying, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

“For what?” I asked.

“For not changing my lede.”

I think I said something like, “I finally taught you how to write one.”

If you want to see an accurate portrayal of what it is like to work in a newsroom, “Spotlight” is not that, but you’d probably not sit through two hours of watching people peck at keyboards, pore over documents, talk on the phone, wrangle over subject-verb agreement, debate story structure and ledes, sourcing and which photos to use. Actually, the photogs get short shrift in the film.

What “Spotlight” does is give a glimpse of those adrenaline-pumping moments when those fought-for documents land with a thud on the desk, when that source confirms, when the reporters and editors argue over whether enough reporting has been done and it is time to do the writing — the ah-ha moments. It also shows the pain of beating your head against indifference, intransigence, just-doing-my-job mentalities, as well as the self doubt and questioning of whether you are doing the right thing. And there is the frustration of being pulled off the big story to work on an even bigger breaking story.

If you can handle a spoiler or a dozen, there is a 2010 story in the UK’s Guardian quoting some of the eight reporters, not four, who worked on the priest abuse story. The script of the movie and the newspaper account of the newspaper story are remarkably parallel, though the movie has some different time elements.

The movie contains many scenes filmed in the actual — nearly empty — newsroom of The Boston Globe. It is a bit aseptic, as I’m sure someone ordered the reporters to clear the clutter from their desks.

I can wholeheartedly recommend this flick to anyone, but especially to everyone who ever worked in a newsroom.

The trailer contains many of those ah-ha moments:








4 comments on “Movie offers glimpses of what a real newsroom is like

  1. prlarry says:

    As one who worked in five newsrooms, I have seen the movie and can recommend it too.

  2. A.D. Hopkins says:

    Will see it on your recommendation. I had the good fortune to mostly work for editors, including you, who understood how to supervise investigative reporting, and would commit the resources to do it. In more than 40 years of journalism, I never got over my discomfort about how rare such editors were and how little investigative reporting was done.

  3. I think I’ve found the movie to go see tomorrow…thanks!

  4. I haven’t been moved by a movie the way I was today watching Spotlight in a long, long time. Excellent scripting and superb performances…I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. It made me want to be a reporter. If only that was the norm in newsrooms across the country…we wouldn’t still be wondering what “fast and furious,” Lois Lerner, private email servers, and an obscure embassy outpost in Libya was really all about…

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