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We may all benefit from an Oscar win

The stars, directors and all manner of people may get award of an Oscar for some film or other, but one winner, this year, may see us all benefit.    Read on.....

"Most people don’t know a journalist. They only know journalists are rated at the bottom of trust polls along with used car salesmen. They only hear presidential candidates trashing reporters daily from the stump.

Spotlight, which just won the Oscar for best picture, allows viewers to peek behind the byline, authentically portraying the tediousness of strong investigative reporting, the fierce determination of reporters, the bravery of top editors and how persistence can bring about real change – as long as management has your back.

That’s why it’s a great thing for journalism that Spotlight won the Oscar for best picture. Highlighting the Boston Globe’s 2002 expose of the Catholic Church’s systemic cover up of priest molestation, Spotlight is this generation’s version of the 1976 movie All the President’s Men.

The win should do wonders for the news business, the public’s understanding of journalism and those of us who believe passionately in journalism’s mission to ultimately inform and do good.

“Mom, I feel like I finally get what you and Dad do now that I’ve seen Spotlight,” said my son, the offspring of two journalists. I’m not alone. Globe Spotlight reporter Sacha Pfeiffer told CNN, “Family members have said to some of us, ‘Oh, now I understand what you do.’”

But will the movie’s success – six Oscar nominations and a passel of other awards – impact the profession as strongly as the All the President’s Men did in the 1970s?

That film, based on the bestselling 1974 book by former Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, details how two junior reporters exposed a massive White House cover-up that led to President Richard Nixon resigning on 9 August 1974.

It inspired a huge spike in enrollment at journalism schools. It led to hundreds of newsrooms setting up investigative teams. It spawned the well-respected Investigative Reporters and Editors group. It dramatically elevated respect for the press. And it ended the days when White House reporters played stenographer to the president’s press secretary.

But that was 40 years ago, in a very different journalism industry.

Today’s ink-stained wretches work in an environment where revelations disappear at the speed of a Twitter feed. The former Boston Globe editor portrayed in Spotlight, Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron, said in a recent talk that he never expected the movie would be made when film-makers first approached him seven years ago. Who would watch it?

Everybody, I hope.

Spotlight can expose to a whole new generation why journalism still matters; why it shouldn’t be dismissed as a sideshow. It painstakingly demonstrates how difficult it is to penetrate a powerful institution such as the Catholic Church – but proves it can be done. It emphasizes how critical and time-consuming investigative reporting is, and why we need to do more – not less – of it.

And Spotlight can show the public an accurate depiction of how reporters and editors actually, really do their jobs, and that most journalists are sincere, hard-working people who make mistakes, miss stories and are just as flawed as any other human beings.

It should go far in boosting the respect most journalists deserve.

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