Spotlight journalist discusses future of the field

by Stephanie Purifoy / Beacon Correspondent • October 11, 2017

“It’s sort of unimaginable that an institution that is supposed to care for children would let this kind of abuse go on,” said decorated journalist Walter Robinson in an event hosted in the Semel Theatre on October 3.

Robinson is most widely known for leading the Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team during their investigation of the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal

The series of articles revolving around the abuse of children by Catholic Priests won the Boston Globe a Pulitzer Prize in Public Service in 2003. Spotlight, a movie based on their investigation, won Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 2016. 

During his talk, Robinson recapped the investigation, telling the audience of students and faculty things that were left out of the film, such as how Robinson went to visit one of the treatment centers that was used to house and treat mentally ill priests. He said that the whole process was long and mostly boring despite the movie turning it into a high-suspense drama.

But all of their hard work paid off in the end. What started as 1 priest turned into 35 which grew to 87. By the time the full investigation had finished, about 250 priests were found to be guilty of sexually abusing children in Boston alone.

Robinson then touched on the making of Spotlight, which starred Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James.

“I think [the Spotlight team depicted] were all pretty blown away by what happened,” he said.

Robinson then turned to the topic of journalism and how young reporters can get ahead in the newsroom.

“I figured out most of the time if you dig a little deeper, those stories they assumed weren’t worthy of prominent place in the paper, could actually be great stories,” he said. “You just ask more questions of more people than the reporter at the next desk.” 

Robinson finished by answering a question on the current political climate in America as it pertains to journalism.

“I think it’s good,” he said. “More people are starting to understand the importance of holding powerful institutions accountable. If we don’t do it, who will?”

The event was highly anticipated among the students in attendance, including freshman Brandi Hewitt who had seen Spotlight and was excited to meet someone so influential. 

“I think it really helps when you're hopefully going into this profession and you have a professional come to talk to you,” she said. “It really helps you understand what you're getting yourself into and what you can do to be successful.”

Journalism professor Karen Bordeleau, who helped organize the event, said that she hoped Robinson would inspire students.

“Walter Robinson is a journalist’s journalist. He has not only spent his life shining light in the dark recesses of government and other powerful institutions but he—and his team at The Globe – have inspired many other journalists to do the same,” she said. “The reason I wanted him to come to Emerson was because I consider him to be the Bob Woodward of the Millennial generation.”

 After the speech Robinson said he enjoys interacting with students. “It's refreshing to come out of a newsroom and interact with students because journalism students—I think they get it a lot better than some of the people in the business,” he said. “Where people in the business see doom and gloom, students see opportunity and there are lots of opportunities.”