I was kind of gratified Sunday night when “Spotlight” won Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards. For those who haven’t seen it, the picture looks at an investigative newspaper team in Boston who uncover widespread abuse of children by Catholic priests in the Boston Archdiocese and the efforts by the Cardinal of Boston, Bernard Law, to cover it up.
Lest you think that this is a movie bashing the Catholic Church, the official newspaper of the Vatican this week praised the movie and the fact that it had earned an Academy Award. L’Osservatore Romano’s editorial was titled, “It’s Not An Anti-Catholic Film,” and declared: “[Spotlight is] not anti- Catholic, as has been written, because it manages to voice the shock and profound pain of the faithful confronting the discovery of these horrendous realities.”
Movies about newspapers are relatively rare, and I suspect that’s because most screenplay writers have a writing experience that didn’t begin in the newspaper business.
Rather than focusing on one central character, “Spotlight” is the story of a team of investigative reporters (called Spotlight) at the Boston Globe, a team made up of some interesting, dedicated and sometimes quirky reporters. It has standout performances by Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber and John Slattery and gives an idea of some of the unromantic drudgery and hard work involved in investigating a major story with dozens of threads that must be followed to their inevitable ends.
But some do. One of the best newspaper movies of all time, although not necessarily the most accurate, is “All the President’s Men,” which chronicled the work of the Washington Post team of Woodward and Bernstein as they worked to uncover the secrets behind the Watergate burglary, a scandal that ultimately led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon.
I absolutely love the many incarnations of the play “The Front Page,” which have included “His Girl Friday,” a movie that has an intrepid reporter investigating the framing of an escaped “killer” and an unscrupulous editor, Walter Burns, who bewails: “Why did I have to hire someone with a disease!” and when his star reporter leaves the paper to marry his sweetheart, gives him his watch as a wedding present, and then calls the police to ask them to arrest him, ending the call with: “______ stole my watch!”
In the past, newspaper reporters, at least in the movies, were among the most unsavory characters you might ever encounter. They were often slovenly, unkempt, unclean, unscrupulous, but also as tenacious as rats chewing through insulation to get to the electrified wire beneath. Today that image of the reporter is usually (although not entirely) inaccurate and you don’t often have to spray Lysol at your everyday ink stained wretch at most publications.
I guarantee that’s true at The Times- Advocate. I’m not including movies about the news, such as “Broadcast News,” “Network” or “The Truth,” because newsgathering for television is a different animal than reporting for a newspaper.
There have not been any movies about community newspapers that I’m aware of. Maybe when I’m old and gray and retired I may write one.
In the meantime, I guess I’ll wait another decade or so for them to make another movie about newspapers.