Case study examines investigation featured in Academy Award-winning Spotlight movie
This year, the movie Spotlight took the big prize at the 88th Academy Awards with a Best Picture victory. Based on the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative “spotlight team” and the decisions faced by those journalists, this story is the subject of a case study in the Case Consortium — a collection of “teaching” cases for the fields of journalism, public policy, public health, and other disciplines.
The case study, “Reporting an Explosive Truth: The Boston Globe and Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church,” introduces students of journalism and mass communications to “the calculus a news organization must make when it uncovers a story that incriminates the most powerful institution in its community.”
“In August 2001, the Boston Globe’s new editor, Martin Baron, commissioned the paper’s investigative Spotlight Team to look into the case against Father John Geoghan, a Catholic priest charged with sexual abuse of children. Within a month, the team had begun to uncover many other instances of abuse by priests. The story was potentially explosive: Boston had the highest percentage of Catholics of any major US city.”
When used in a classroom setting, case studies provide students with a non-threatening environment in which to practice newly forming habits of analysis, leadership and management. The “real-world experience” gained in a Case Method classroom allows students to develop critical thinking and judgment skills. Using the Boston Globe case study, students can examine investigative techniques as well as the special challenges of covering religion, and gain insight into the personal toll on journalists of covering misdeeds in one’s own church.
Nearly all the cases in the Case Consortium are multimedia and based on original research; a few are written from secondary sources. The Boston Globe case study was written by David Mizner for the Knight Case Studies Initiative, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University. The faculty sponsor was Professor Ari Goldman. Funding was provided by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.