Yesterday the Morning News published a story online (didn’t appear to make the paper today) about some great work it did a few years back. The post was headlined “Dallas Shined Spotlight on Pedophile Priests Before Events in Oscar-winning Film,” and it begins thusly: “Before a 2002 Boston Globe investigation rocked the Catholic Church and inspired an Oscar-winning movie, Dallas reporter Brooks Egerton was unveiling the church’s systemic cover-up of pedophile priests.” Very much true. Maybe Spotlight could have been made in Dallas. Egerton and others at the paper — Ed Housewright, Michael Saul, Reese Dunklin, Darlean Spangenberger, Brendan Case — did some really top-notch reporting. But I have two problems with the post.
First, the point of the post is to say, “We did this first. All the praise that the Boston Globe is getting because of this movie? The Morning News deserves it. And we probably deserved the Pulitzer that the Globe got, too.” You know what? The folks at the paper probably have a right to feel that way. But once that green-eyed monster walks into the newsroom, there are only two ways to handle it. Either you ignore it or you confront it head-on. You say, “Hell yes, we are jealous.” You have Brooks Egerton write a first-person account of how he dug up the records and chased bad priests all over the planet. Just be honest and up-front about the whole thing. Instead, the News published something that tries to look like an objective story.
In the end, though, who cares? My beef with the transparency of the post isn’t really a big deal. If you disagree with my take, you might be right. So whatever.
The bigger problem is that Brooks Egerton isn’t going to write that first-person account for the paper because he no longer works there. He left the News in December. Took the buyout. To be clear, my problem isn’t with the News. The paper is doing what it must to stay in business. My problem is with the news. Very few reporters working today would be given the time to do what Egerton and his five colleagues — five! — did all those years ago. In 2007, the country had about 55,000 people working in newsrooms; today there are fewer than 33,000, a 40 percent reduction. Here’s how Will Bunch, writing yesterday for Philly.com, put it:
As for not watching the Oscars, it was mostly because I was way too busy as Sunday night editor of the Daily News — performing the more quotidian rituals that result in a newspaper every morning, like making sure the Daily News Pet of the Week (Eevee, an adorable Chihuahia mix up for adoption!) gets to the right place. As for not racing out to see Spotlight, a film that celebrates my profession at its best….I don’t know. I’m sure I’ll get to it.
OK, maybe it’s because I lived through that bygone era (the movie’s set in 2002) of profitable newspapers and big budgets, with scores of reporters freed up to work for weeks or even months on complicated investigative stories. To be sure, I know a lot of journalists who continue to do amazing work — but it’s all uphill, against the wind. There are precious few teams left like the Boston Globe’s Spotlight unit.
My Twitter account — larded with other journalists — was filled with somewhat self-congratulatory tweets, that the Oscar was some sort of validation of what we do. Perhaps. But to me, seeing the glory 2002-era journalism on the big screen falls under the classification of history, not current events. I find that a little sad — more a validation of what we did.
A final note, and then I’ll let you go. On Twitter, Brooks Egerton and Reese Dunklin (also no longer at the paper) had an exchange about a huge database of bad priests that they had built. The News didn’t maintain that database. Thankfully, an organization called Bishop Accountability did. The database is here.