In a distracted media landscape, we need journalism

by Jeremy Church, on Nov 23, 2015

“Spotlight” expanded nationwide this past weekend, accompanied by critical acclaim praising it as one of the best films of the year.

I have to admit I’ve been disappointed in recent years by the hype surrounding many of the recent “prestige” pictures. I’ve gone in with huge expectations and left the theater unfulfilled.

That wasn’t the case with “Spotlight.” In fact, it’s one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time and perhaps the finest movie ever about the importance of investigative journalism – and I’m including “All the President’s Men” in that conversation.

For those unfamiliar with the story, “Spotlight” refers to The Boston Globe’s series of 2002 stories that highlighted the Catholic Church’s cover up of child sexual abuse at the hands of hundreds of local priests. (Warning: Minor spoilers ahead.) 

Certainly, the church’s involvement elevated the scope and pressure surrounding the investigative journalism portrayed in “Spotlight,” which specifically refers to the name of the team assigned to write these pieces for The Globe.

However, all journalism is local and the significance of news varies based upon who it impacts. Therefore, I would argue the stories covered in investigative journalism are sometimes secondary in importance to the need for reporters on staff who are able to dedicate the time and resources to track them down. 

For example, The Globe’s investigative team would often work for months to see a series of stories come to fruition. (If – like me – you didn’t remember this as a huge news event during 2002, that’s because the coverage was set to run in the fall of 2001 before the September 11 attacks understandably pushed the coverage into 2002.) 

But it’s not just the investigative world where this type of coverage makes a difference. Here’s why stories like those told in “Spotlight” matter in everyday journalism. 

In our home base of Pittsburgh, hundreds of local reporters were laid off or bought out in recent months at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and PBS affiliate WQED.

This isn’t unique to Pittsburgh. In an era where anyone can be a citizen journalist and news changes by the minute, the need to be the first to post a story has often trumped getting the facts right, or at the very least not having the time to provide all the facts in their proper context. How can reporters like those profiled in “Spotlight” continue to do their important work at news organizations where legitimate financial pressures are resulting in more and more job cuts each day?

Additional news outlets don’t equal quality editorial coverage. Not everyone is a trained journalist and many who are now have to cover multiple beats. Very few reporters are allowed to focus on one industry or business sector exclusively, let alone dig into in-depth issues that might impact large segments of their community.

In our world, we pride ourselves on being honest brokers of communication for our clients. With newspapers shrinking and veteran journalists being bought out or furloughed, it’s a problem when businesses and organizations trying to distinguish themselves from their competition don’t have enough knowledgeable third parties to tell their stories.

Independent validation of the products and services our clients provide is perhaps the most important consideration for those making a decision on who to partner with or what to buy.

That only happens when media outlets have more resources in place to educate the public on what is truly happening in their local communities, not less.

After watching “Spotlight,” I was sobered by the tragic nature of the story. I was also proud of the way the journalists persevered to make sure it was told. We need more of this type of journalism so our society can better understand what constitutes real news. That way, it would be easier to avoid the ubiquitous righteous indignation that passes for in-depth reporting these days.

An educated public should and can make better choices. To paraphrase a colleague of mine, “If all they’ve ever been fed is crap, then they’ll live their lives thinking it’s the greatest food they’ve ever had." 

When I walked out of the theater past a long line waiting to get in, this observation rang especially true.

They were all waiting to see the wrong movie. The fourth “Hunger Games” movie was playing right next door.

We all love comfort food, but sometimes it’s good to eat a few vegetables.

Topics:media relations
Jeremy Church
Jeremy Church
Partner, Vice President and Director of Results

Jeremy Church is a partner, vice president and director of results at WordWrite. He can be reached at jeremy.church@wordwritepr.com or on Twitter at @churchjeremy.

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