Coworkers no longer ask me if I saw that story on the news last night because my answer is always the same.
Of course I didn’t see that story on the news last night. That would entail watching the news. Why would I ever do that?
When it’s not rampant irresponsible speculation it’s fear mongering, and when it’s not fear mongering the news is the verbal snuff of an overly-manicured talking head fleshing out the fine details of whatever tragedy is within reach.
On its face Spotlight, director Thomas McCarthy’s film following the Boston Globe’s investigation of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, is an obvious condemnation of corruption within institutionalized religion. It’s a fantastic conspiracy thriller about what happens when human beings elevate an institution above other human beings. But it’s also something of a ray of hope in terms of what the media can be at its best.
Spotlight follows the investigation behind a news piece painstakingly constructed to combat a problem. The piece at the center or the film didn’t set out to fan the flames of fear or keep the wheels of baseless speculation turning, it set out to right a wrong, to improve upon the status quo.
Crazy, right? But Spotlight isn’t set in some nostalgic golden age of journalism before the 24-hour news cycle and the echo chamber of cable news. It takes place just over ten years ago. The film doesn’t have some sort of naïve view of journalism either. The reporters depicted in the film are far from perfect. Healthy senses of suspicion can all too easily give way to dismissiveness. Competition between publications is an ever present source of motivation. No one is hiding the pursuit of a story here. But the sum total of the journalistic pursuit in Spotlight wasn’t some sort of shoddy map to paranoia. The story in question was an important one. It was one that needed to be told. Can we say the same about any piece of news we’ve made small talk about with our coworkers today?
Spotlight reminded me of something I had forgotten in the cynicism of an election year: news doesn’t have to be a nonstop stream of content primarily functioning to rabidly grasp for eyeballs and ratings. It can and has been a vital force for positive societal change.