Some people are saying that Spotlight is the best journalism movie since All The President’s Men.  I actually think it’s better.

spotlight-image-1Spotlight tells the story of the Boston Globe‘s breaking of the story of priest pedophilia and sexual abuse in Boston — a story that helped trigger the worldwide focus on priestly child abuse in the Catholic Church.  It’s got all of the elements of the classic film about reporting:  the team of tough, hard-bitten reporters and editors, the shoe-leather reporting work of trying to convince reluctant sources to talk, the efforts of powerful people and institutions to bury the story, the tough decisions on when to publish . . . as well as the inevitable footage of the newspapers rolling through the printing presses and being bundled and delivered when the story finally hits the front page.  The film is a riveting story of criminal cover-ups and secrecy and dogged reporters finally getting to the truth.

But what really lifts the movie into the realm of greatness, in my view, is the rawness of the story that the reporters were trying to exposed.  In a film chock full of terrific performances, some of the most powerful are given by the actors playing the devastated, humiliated, emotionally crippled abuse victims . . . and, interestingly, by the defenders of the Catholic Church struggling to rationalize their unrationalizable efforts to maintaining the silence about terrible, unpardonable criminal conduct.  And when the movie comes to its potent final scene, and on the day the story hits the newspaper the investigative reporting team is bombarded with phone calls from victims that reveal that the priestly abuse problem is even more severe than they dreamed, the viewer can’t help by be amazed and sickened that so many people allowed such inexcusable conduct to go on, victimizing new generations of children, for so long.  The movie’s message hits like a sledgehammer to the gut.

The script for the movie is terrific, the actors playing the investigative reporting team — Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d’Arcy James — are all excellent, and I particularly liked Liev Schreiber as the taciturn new editor who cues the reporters in to the story lurking under their noses and Stanley Tucci as the lawyer for the victims who has no expectations that the Globe will actually tackle the dominant religious institution in town.  The finest performances, though, were of the actors playing the emotionally wrecked abuse victims.  Their characters shift Spotlight from a traditional fast-paced reporting movie into an emotional powerhouse.

This is a must-see movie.

The (Sigh) News About The News

The news business in America has been in the news a lot recently, and unfortunately the news is pretty much all bad.

Two of our most storied newspapers, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe, have been sold for a small fraction of their value only a decade ago.  The New York Times, which bought the Globe in 1993 for $1.1 billion, sold it to billionaire John Henry for only $70 million.  What’s worse, the Times retained liability for the Globe’s pension obligations, which reportedly total more than $100 million.  If you do the math, that means the Times basically lost its entire $1.1 billion investment over 20 years.  Although the Times tried to justify its sale as an effort to focus on its core “brand,” it’s obvious the sale sought to unload a money pit that the Times didn’t know how to turn around.

The Washington Post and related publishing businesses were sold to Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, for $250 million.  Although the price was higher than the pittance paid for the Globe, it still shocked the journalism world because it was much lower than the Post‘s expected value and because it ended the long-time ownership of the Graham family.  Both the Post and the Globe have been troubled by the same trends that have plagued other newspapers — declining circulation and a business model based on paper, with all of its attendant costs, when the rest of the world is moving full throttle into digital communications.

In addition to the fire sale prices paid for these two legendary publications, recent journalism news has seen continuing layoffs of reporters, editors, and other members of newspaper staffs.  Last week, for example, the Cleveland Plain Dealer laid off about one-third of its editorial staff.

One sign of the desperate times in the news business is the effort to see the silver lining in Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post.  Some people in the journalism industry hope that Bezos, who has taken Amazon from an on-line bookseller to its current status as an ever-expanding conglomerate powerhouse, may be able to figure out what has stumped others in the journalism business:  how to make the daily newspaper something that everybody will read, and happily pay for, again.