Spotlight on Spotlight

For more than 50 years, the Boston Globe’s award-winning Spotlight Team – not the same people, they do change them – has put a spotlight on corruption, scandal, and inequity in the region.

From exposing James “Whitey” Bulger as an FBI informant to revealing slothful schedules of Massachusetts judges to uncovering redlining by mortgage companies in minority neighborhoods to pulling back the veil on clergy sex abuse in the Catholic church, Spotlight has defined the best in investigative journalism for those in and outside of the industry. For decades, reporters pined to ascend to a spot on the team, the mere mention of the Spotlight name sent shivers down the back of pols receiving calls from the reporters, and readers would eagerly anticipate the Sunday morning delivery of the first in a series on a subject.

But with the massive decline in readership of newspapers, reporting itself may no longer be enough to engage readers. The latest iteration of Spotlight, which produced last year’s series on race in Boston, was the fulcrum for a bit this week on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. With a couple shots of the collective team that did the series, the show’s roving “correspondent” Ron Wood did a segment on “How racist is Boston?” Reporter Akilah Johnson played the straight-faced foil to an interview with Wood, who made some increasingly, kind-of-funny but outlandish statements and actions.

Johnson, and the Spotlight team itself, willingly participated in what was a satirical look at Boston’s racist reputation. Using the paper’s reports as the foundation for the bit is a new turn in promoting the journalism of a news outlet in today’s online world.

There are some old-timers (hand raised) who think the stories are too important to be used as fodder for a comedy sketch. We also think that when the reporters themselves become part of the story, it dilutes the focus. But others argue that a diminished audience for newspapers, whether print or online, calls for more proactive actions in unconventional ways to get the information in front of more eyes. It’s a valid argument.

Spotlight is becoming a valuable brand for the Globe and owner John Henry. Younger generations have no allegiance or knowledge of the legendary Robert Healey, Gerry O’Neill, Dick Lehr, or the recently retired Steve Kurkjian. Some may know Walter Robinson, Mike Rezendes, or former editor Marty Baron only because they were played by Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Liev Schrieber, respectively, in the Oscar-winning movie Spotlight.

As many point out, though, the movie was not merely about the sex abuse scandal, but the often-mundane yet laborious search for data and information tidbits that, put together, make a compelling and important investigative news story. It was journalism at its best. And, like All the President’s Men more than 40 years ago, it is spurring new interest in younger reporters getting into the business.

With The Daily Show skit, Johnson and the other Spotlight reporters did little more than lend their name and their reporting to the segment. But, in turn, they’re getting a big return. Social media lit up with links and references to the video and Spotlight’s appearance. They hailed the segment as a way to relay the team’s journalism through a highly watched show nationally in a funny and accessible manner.

Interestingly, Wood took his camera and microphone to Fenway Park, also owned by Henry, to interview fans about whether they thought Boston was racist. (Whites, “no,” blacks, “yes.”) It was a cross promotion twofer for Henry, who also recently led the charge to change the name of Yawkey Way because of the late Red Sox owner’s alleged racist attitudes. Henry was able to not only highlight his paper and his sports team but get attention for an issue that clearly resonates with him. That the spoof made some of his (white) paying customers look like clueless dolts apparently was irrelevant.

In the end, maybe getting people to read the hard and important work of real reporters and newspapers is what matters, not how they got there.



Gas explosions and more than 60 fires rocked Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover, leaving one man dead, at least 25 injured, and prompting evacuation orders for thousands of residents. (Boston Globe) Officials say 60 to 80 fires and at least three explosions occurred in the three municipalities. (Eagle-Tribune) US Rep. Seth Moulton says the president of Columbia Gas, the utility serving the areas hit, didn’t return his calls. (MassLive)

Somerville will no longer officially observe Columbus Day and will instead designate the October Monday “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” in honor of the Native Americans who were victims of the Italian explorer’s participation “in the early stages of what became a genocide.” (Boston Herald)

An anonymous donor has offered to foot the bill for a new fire department headquarters in Milton at a cost of $6 to $8 million. (Patriot Ledger)

In the longest application process in its history, the Edgartown Planning Board approved a 115-foot cell tower for AT&T on Chappaquiddick, a decision neighbors have vowed to fight in court. (Cape Cod Times)


President Trump said there were “only 6 to 18 deaths” in Puerto Rico because of last year’s hurricane and claimed incorrectly that estimates of nearly 3,000 deaths were a plot by Democrats to make him look bad. (New York Times)

The bitter partisan battle over the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh escalated further Thursday after US Sen. Dianne Feinstein turned a letter over to the FBI that purportedly included allegations of sexual misconduct by the 53-year-old judge when he was in high school. (Washington Post)

Public and private debt worldwide climbed 11 percent in the first quarter of 2018 to a record $247 trillion, sparking fears of another impending major global economic meltdown. (U.S. News & World Report)


Geoff Diehl, the Republican US Senate candidate and Trump backer, says he would be an asset to Gov. Charlie Baker in Washington if he defeats Sen. Elizabeth Warren. (State House News)

Joyce Ferriabough Bolling rips Congressional Black Caucus leaders Maxine Waters and John Lewis for having circled the wagons around colleague Michael Capuano and snubbing Ayanna Pressley, saying she’d love to be the “proverbial ‘fly on the wall’” when Pressley arrives at the CBC’s annual meetings this weekend in Washington. (Boston Herald)

Everyone is scratching their heads about the high number of blanked ballots in Lowell for the Third Congressional District race. (Lowell Sun) The recount in the close primary contest got underway yesterday, with a goal of completing it by Monday. (Boston Globe)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo turned back a primary challenge by actor and liberal activist Cynthia Nixon, beating her by 30 points. (New York Times)


In a major breakthrough for the business operations of the state’s marijuana industry, GPA Federal Credit Union in Gardner will become the first financial institution in Massachusetts to offer banking services to pot firms, something banks have been reluctant to do because marijuana remains illegal at the federal level. (Boston Globe)

Renee Loth says Boston’s luxury condo building boom is not solving the region’s “housing affordability problem.” (Boston Globe)

Hanover Insurance Group is selling its international insurance business for nearly $1 billion, more than twice what it paid seven years ago. (Telegram & Gazette)

For the first time in more than 50 years, a physician will take over as president of Planned Parenthood. (Chronicle of Philanthropy)


In the face of calls from a number of education and civil rights groups for interim Boston school superintendent Laura Perille her to be barred from seeking the permanent position, a Globe editorial says she should be given a chance to show her abilities.

TEC Connections Academy, the state’s virtual school free to students in all grades in Massachusetts that started four years ago, has grown to more than 1,750 students and officials expect to top 2,200 before the school year is out. (Herald News)

St. Paul’s School agreed to hand control to the New Hampshire attorney general of the investigation of allegations of sexual abuse of minors at the prep school. (Boston Globe)


The state’s Health Connector is hiking premiums an average of 4.7 percent, just one day after another state agency released a report show health care spending increased by just 1.6 percent. (State House News Service)

Boston filed suit against 13 drug makers, four distributors, and a local physician seeking $64 million to cover costs the city has incurred since 2014 in dealing with the opioid epidemic. (Boston Globe)


Ethan Finlan of TransitMatters explains why he thinks a Blue-Red pedestrian link is a bad idea and why an actual Bowdoin-Charles/MGH transit link makes sense. (CommonWealth)

The attorney general’s office is now claiming that an MBTA employee arrested in June for stealing money from bus fare boxes stole $450,000 and not the $80,000 originally suspected. (CommonWealth)


Homeowners around the country are buying batteries to store excess solar power faster than companies can make them. (U.S. News & World Report)

Yarmouth and Vineyard Wind are struggling to come to an agreement on compensation for allowing a power cable to come ashore. (Cape Cod Times)


The state gambling commission investigation of Wynn Resorts is not yet complete, despite earlier vows to wrap it up by the end of August. (Boston Herald)

Underage gaming emerges as a problem at the MGM casino in Springfield. (State House News) Because the house always win, the casino has banned its first patron for “card counting,” but offers the very civic-minded explanation that allowing him to remain is “also taking revenue out of the state’s hands.” (Boston Globe)


A Barnstable man was indicted on federal charges of laundering $400 million as part of an alleged cryptocurrency Ponzi scheme. (Cape Cod Times)

A Globe editorial says Democratic nominee for Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins’s plan not to prosecute a list of 15 lower-level offenses is sensible, not reckless, and says her reform agenda is what voters embraced last week.