February 11 2016: Films like Spotlight remind us how important journalism is

The Evening Times opinion column, February 11 2016

There is only one thing I love more than a good Hollywood movie. And that’s a good Hollywood movie about journalism.

I can’t get enough of them – State of Play, The Hudsucker Proxy, His Girl Friday, and, of course, All the President’s Men, which is my favourite because of the 1970s shaggy hair-dos.

It’s not just because of my job that I love these films. I think the nostalgia of the media in the early days of the internet (or before it existed) must leave a lump in everyone’s throat.

And now there’s Spotlight.

Spotlight is the Oscar-tipped film about the Boston Globe investigation into sexual abuse by hundreds of Catholic priests, which had been covered up.

There’s a lot of sifting through documents, waiting around courtrooms and wolfing down meals late at night. It stars some of my favourite actors: Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and John Slatterly.

To me, Spotlight is a love letter to investigative journalism. There’s an editor who brings out the best in his employees and a team who support each other.

There are the bad guys, the scandal of the cover-up and the problems that come with unchallenged power.

Then there are the long newsroom discussions, reminding us that behind every good story there is (and should be) subs, editors, photographers and many others.

After all the spreadsheets and hard graft, a story is published that shakes the Catholic church to its core. It’s a great snapshot of the process, although I take issue with the scene where Rachel McAdams’ character jots down an interview with a victim while walking beside him.

There’s another film about journalism that’s on my radar – a documentary about the struggle by the Sunday Times to tell the story of the thalidomide scandal and the fight for compensation.

Attacking the Devil: Harold Evans and the Last Nazi War Crime is only showing in a few cinemas but I’d really like to see it.

The stories in these two films are huge but I think it’s important to remember the role of journalism on a smaller scale, too.

Newspapers and the wider media industry are facing massive changes as readerships fall and audiences change. But it is still relevant.

It’s not that I think journalism is the only powerful tool, but there’s no denying that it can play a big part in bringing an issue to the public’s attention.

If it allows just one person to tell their story, it’s done its job.

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