The film “Spotlight” has terrific actors and a sickening, true story for the plot line: It’s 2001, and Boston Globe reporters are researching accusations that some Catholic priests have been molesting scores of young children, perhaps for decades. The city is 50 percent Catholic; the church, its most powerful institution.
The story is double-edged. There is the sexual and spiritual abuse of so many children, and the systematic coverup by the church. Priests found to have engaged in these despicable acts are routinely transferred to other parishes, where they are likely to prey upon other children.
As the world now knows, the church got a scandal for the ages, thanks to the work of some tenacious reporters on the Globe’s Spotlight investigative team, and to a new editor who was not overwhelmed by the magnitude of the story or by the clout of the church — which he experienced first hand in a meeting with Cardinal Bernard Law, perhaps the most powerful man in Boston. After the first story (there would be 600 stories the first year, and 300 the second) was published under the direction of that editor, Marty Baron, the subsequent reports would lead to Law resigning, eventually going to a post in Rome, despite the fact that he had orchestrated settlements with some of the victim’s families, and would be shown a figure in the coverup.
The movie, now playing at the Rialto theater, is said to be an Academy Award favorite. In fact, it may be the big favorite.
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On Sunday last, the soft-spoken Baron, 61, now editor of the Washington Post, came on his own time and without payment to Raleigh to answer questions. He was brought in by the NC Newsroom Cooperative, a non-profit partnering with the Research Triangle Foundation to establish a co-working newsroom for freelance journalists at The Frontier in RTP.
Its mission is to maintain and direct the future of quality journalism at a time when print newspapers are trimming sails and exploring digital alternatives (and when so many other businesses are putting up content that looks like journalism but contains everything but facts).
Baron came at the request of veteran journalist Seth Effron, a friend from Effron’s time with the Nieman Foundation at Harvard while Baron was at the Globe. Former News & Observer columnist Mary Miller is NCNC’s founding president, and is married to Bob Geolas, president and CEO of the Research Triangle Foundation. The Foundation provides working space for the cooperative.
But first, there was the spectacular movie. Baron’s man-of-few-words nature is captured by actor Liev Scheiber, and Michael Keaton plays the earnest leader of the Spotlight team.
Effron, who will manage the daily operations of the cooperative, briefly introduced Baron and as the end credits were rolling. There was a moment.
“This is Marty Baron,” he said. Silence for 10 seconds. Then some applause. which grew louder and longer as the crowd stood to give Baron an ovation.
Afterward, in the Proof bar next door, Baron made a plea for the importance of local investigative journalism. Then the questions came, about how he handled the pressure, about the reporters, about the story itself.
A woman in the audience raised her hand at the end. Hers was not a question, but an answer: “I used to say I was a victim,” she said, referring to her own abuse by a priest as a young girl. “But after today, I’m not going to say I’m a victim. I’m going to say I’m a survivor.” Applause followed, and later, Baron walked over and thanked her.
Colleagues Joe Neff and Dan Kane, two of the The N&O’s best investigative reporters, huddled with the editor later. They’re proud to share the mission of rooting out the truth with people like Marty Baron. For those who do it, journalism is a calling that serves the community. Because the truth matters.
Jenkins: 919-829-4513 or at firstname.lastname@example.org