This was a tweetstorm that I turned into a blog post ….
First, most important: it’s a victory for the victims of these terrible crimes who deserved to have their story told. Sunshine is the best disinfectant. Journalism at its best is giving voice to the most vulnerable who don’t have a megaphone like powerful people and institutions. In my mind, it’s the only reason journalism needs to exist.
Second, it’s a victory for the hard work journalists do to hold those in power accountable. We often think of journalism as daily pop culture, entertainment coverage. Even politics-as-entertainment coverage. And those are! But Spotlight showed the tedious, unsung everyday work that reporters often do for communities.
Thank your local investigative reporter who exposes wrongdoing. Thank your local beat reporter who sits through boring city council meetings that are 90% yawnfests, who keep watch because they’re looking out for the people’s interests. Thank the reporter who digs through city records to see what the bastards are trying to get away with today, as a former mentor said (I think he was riffing on someone else’s quote, but I don’t recall whom). Thank your local city editor, who is unflinching in the face of pressure and power and knows that their first loyalty is to readers.
And thank your news leaders with vision. People like Marty Baron, who see the big picture beyond individual stories. Marty Baron wasn’t chasing a Pulitzer, a movie credit, an Oscar. He was chasing the truth, taking a stand against systemic evil.
Yes, there is bad journalism out there. Part of my job requires I do media criticism, and in that role I call balls and strikes (though I certainly am not the final word on that). But most journalists are dedicated pros who care about their communities. They care about getting the story right. They care about truth. Journalism orgs do have their problems. Sometimes they are in the newsroom, often times they are in management. Reporters/editors in the trenches usually are not part of the problem.
And finally, pay for journalism somehow. Subscribe if you can, or patronize advertisers who support rigorous independent journalism. Donate to ProPublica or local nonprofits supporting news. Support independent journalists too!
You might not like all of journalism, but it’s what we have. Sometimes news challenges people we like, institutions we hold dear, or ideas we agree with. That’s the thing about independence. We’ll lose it if it’s of a party or ideology. You can’t just support what affirms your worldview. It’s not sustainable for the news business, and it isn’t sustainable for democracy.
The Elements of Journalism said so well: Journalism’s first obligation is to truth, first loyalty is to citizens. Its essence is a discipline of verification.
I remain bullish on the future of stories. Honor what’s best about “Spotlight” by focusing on critical stories and making the business more sustainable.