Maybe it’s the times we live in, but journalism is being celebrated in the movies again. If only the gap between the Oscar-grabbing, fist-pumping glory and the grubby reality was not so great
The 2015 movie Spotlight focused on the true story of how journalists at The Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese. The movie was rightly lauded, winning the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.
Like the 1976 movie All the President’s Men, about The Washington Post’s dogged expose of the Watergate scandal that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation as US President, Spotlight (and the upcoming The Post about the Pentagon Papers) is the sort of film that reminds us why we need a strong, independent, publicly minded Fourth Estate.
However, the truth is that the capacity of cash-strapped newspapers to do these sort of expensive, high-risk, long-horizon investigations that only rarely hit their targets is dwindling. It’s hard enough in the US, where pockets are deeper and markets are bigger. In Australia, it’s even tougher – though we are seeing an increased pooling of resources, such as in last year’s excellent Four Corners/Fairfax expose of dodgy retirement villages.
The reality is that ‘journalism’ is increasingly about generating clickbait. Journalists rarely leave the newsroom, which these days are run by marketing people who wax lyrical (and incomprehensibly) about “maximizing brand engagement across multiple platforms”. It’s a point the satirist John Oliver makes in this on-the-money and hilarious takedown of the media business.