By Anastazja Kolodziej
Marty Baron spoke about his experience as editor of the Boston Globe during the newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal Nov. 1 at the Adele H. Stamp Student Union.
Baron, the executive editor of the Washington Post, also answered questions about dealing with criticism of “fake news” and gave advice to aspiring journalists at a Q&A session called “’Spotlight’ on Investigative Journalism.”
The Globe’s investigation into the sexual assault scandal was brought to the big screen in 2015 in the critically acclaimed film Spotlight.
The movie was “quite faithful to the facts,” Baron said.
At his first news meeting on his first day as editor of the Globe, Baron mentioned a column he had read by Eileen McNamara and asked how the newsroom intended to follow up on it, he recounted. No one had considered doing so, because the documents that would answer any questions about the situation were under court seal.
“I think that people were a little shocked to hear their new editor on his first day of news meetings talking about court action against the church,” Baron said.
If the investigation had occurred today, the Globe would have to approach it differently because of the 24-hour news cycle, Baron said.
“The speed at which we have to operate these days, I always worry about the questions that get missed,” Baron said. “I think that always gets you in trouble… what did you not ask, what did you not think past that could actually change the picture.”
Because of Spotlight, more newspapers launched investigative teams, he said.
“It’s really heartening seeing that kind of thing happening,” Baron said.
Nevertheless, the most important aspect of investigative journalism is “for every reporter to think of himself or herself as an investigative reporter,” regardless of what team they work on, he said.
Baron also spoke about working in journalism with a president who decries the press as “the enemy of the people” and who says they write “fake news.”
Baron said that he prefers the term “stories that are false” rather than fake news because that is a term used “solely for the purpose of discrediting mainstream news organizations.”
“Our primary responsibility is publishing facts,” Baron said.
However, he said that the media can do more to be transparent. Newspapers should be able to answer questions such as why they use anonymous sources and to tell their readers who their journalists are as people, he said.
As long as the stories are factual, the newspaper should not focus on the consequences of their reporting, Baron said.
“We have to be activists for the truth, not activists for causes,” he said.
Baron ended the talk by giving the aspiring journalists in his audience some advice.
“It’s really important for journalists to be more impressed with what you don’t know than what you do know,” he said. “We are going to fail as an institution if we think we know everything.”
What is the best way for journalists to learn?
“What we as journalists mostly ought to be doing is listening.”
The talk was sponsored by the Diamondback and the new Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Anastasia Kolodziej/Bloc Reporter.
Anastazja Kolodziej is a sophomore journalism and classics major and can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
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