Marty Baron, the newspaper editor who has overseen 10 Pulitzer Prize-winning projects, told a Raleigh audience Sunday that investigative journalism could become an endangered species if journalistic budgets continue to erode.
Baron, 61, was in town Sunday for a screening of “Spotlight,” the Hollywood account of the Boston Globe’s exposé of the Catholic Church pedophilia scandal, coverage that won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize. Now editor of The Washington Post, Baron noted that the 7-month Boston Globe investigation ultimately yielded 900 news stories during two years and cost well in excess of $1 million in legal fees, travel expenses and staff time.
The movie is being strongly reviewed for its depiction of the Globe newsroom of the era. The imperturbable, taciturn Baron depicted on the big screen represents the power of the press in a different time, before the Internet siphoned off advertisers and the invisible hand of the economy decimated many newsrooms.
In the years since Baron’s reporters uncovered the child abuse and coverup scandal, the relevance of the old-guard media has come under fire and the future nature of journalism has become the object of much speculation. Amid the endless experimentation underway with podcasting and videos and other formats, Baron said investigations must remain the soul of the newsroom.
“People have declared our death too many times to count, but the reason we’re around is because people need us,” Baron said in an interview. “Maybe we’re at an inflection point where people start to appreciate this kind of work. If newspapers don’t do this kind of work, we’ll see more corruption and more abuse by powerful interests.”
Baron’s visit was the inaugural event for the N.C. Newsroom Cooperative, an incubator space planned to open this spring in Research Triangle Park for freelancers, bloggers and other independent journalists. Organization president Mary Miller said the media experiment could help fill the void being created by the shrinking of legacy news organizations.
Baron said all newspapers are under financial pressure, but noted that the crisis of journalism is playing out especially at small and mid-sized papers, where a single reporter might be assigned to cover an entire state government – the governor, the legislature and all state agencies.
After the movie, which played to a packed house at the Rialto theater, Baron spoke and answered questions for about 100 people. Members of the audience asked for details about the Boston Globe’s digging into an institutional church pattern that allowed legions of priests to evade criminal prosecution through quiet reassignments to other parishes, where the priests could prey on more children.
Baron said the “story of accountability is not over yet,” as long as the bishops who oversaw the transfers and coverups remain in office, calling this “the greatest failing of the Church.”
“They were fighting survivors every step of the way, in some cases saying the victims were responsible for what happened to them,” Baron said. “These were poor families, with a single mother looking for a male figure in the family, and they figured a priest was the safest option.”
Reviewers have noted “Spotlight’s” meticulous attention to detail, the result of hours of research by the movie’s producers, lending the movie the feel of a documentary.
Baron said the movie accurately captured his aloof nature after he arrived in Boston in 2001 to run the Globe and achieved prize-winning status in uncovering the pedophilia scandal. Arriving just six weeks before two planes out of Boston were highjacked for 9/11 terrorist attacks, Baron had no friends in town. Four managers reporting to him had been passed over as candidates for the editing slot that went to Baron.
“I knew virtually nobody at the newspaper and I was perceived as an outsider,” he said. “It was a very stressful and lonely time.”