So in a surprise win, Spotlight bagged the Oscar for Best Picture – a very nice victory for a great movie about investigative journalism. In fact, probably the best film about journalism since All The President’s Men came out in 1976.
If you haven’t seen it, you should: It’s a nicely nuanced look at the long, dogged process of investigative reporting, both wonderfully acted and directed, that features no car chases, meetings in dark carparks, or secret leaks – just hard work. And a spreadsheet.
And that’s probably one of the nicest things about the movie, at least for me. There’s a point in it when the reporters figure out that priests who have been caught molesting children are sent off for a period of “recovery” somewhere else – so now the team can, instead of looking for tips about abusive priests, start working the other way, but building a database of priests who have been warehoused for a year or so.
As Matt Carroll, one of the reporters on the story notes in an essay on Medium:
It’s also wonderful because it shows the power of investigative journalism, through the tedious grind of slowly building a major story, thread by thread. One scene pays homage to the gritty work involved in building a spreadsheet of suspect priests. A spreadsheet, of all things! And the scene is great. (OK, so I’m biased: I was the data geek. But I still think the scene is fantastic.)
Hear, hear. So here’s to a great movie on investigative journalism where the star of the show is a spreadsheet. OK, so I’m stretching it. But it’s still a nice win for data journalism as well.