Home / Mint-lounge / Mint-on-sunday /  Question, find and publish the truth: motto of a Spotlight reporter

Michael Rezendes is a Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter on The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team. In over two decades with the Globe, he has worked as a reporter and editor, covering presidential, state and local politics. In 2003, Rezendes did a story that revealed the cover up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, chronicled in the Academy Award-winning movie Spotlight. 

On his maiden visit to India, Rezendes spoke at The Media Rumble, a news media conference organized by Newslaundry and Teamwork Arts. In an interview to Mint on the sidelines of the event, Rezendes talked about the need to fund investigative media outlets and the financial difficulties news organizations face today. His advice to other journalists: question the truth, find the truth and publish the truth.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

What’s the biggest change that you’ve seen in the US journalism landscape over the last 5-10 years?

I’ve seen a very terrible, discouraging financial weakening of most news organizations in the United States. Most traditional news organizations... are cutting their staff, city halls are not being covered, state houses and courts are not being covered. I think because the revenue model has been destroyed by the internet, basic accountability journalism is not happening in cities all across America and I think its very troubling.

What could address this financial weakening?

I think there is going to be a new financial model that will evolve or maybe there’ll be several that evolve. I’m very interested in the non-profit model right now. There are some non-profit organizations in the United States that are doing very well. Pro Publica, the Centre for Investigative Reporting and the Centre for Public Integrity. These are all news organizations that exist with donations and they are doing very well and producing great work. 

I think the non-profit model is interesting, the subscription model is interesting. We’ll get there, but its just a very rocky period right now and a lot of news organizations don’t have enough money to do basic accountability journalism. I think its dangerous for a democracy. I think its dangerous for America. But I think we’ll find our way out of it. I think new revenue models will evolve.

You mentioned in your session that even with all the digital traction around news consumption, some of the most read stories on the Boston Globe are still the 5,000-word-long pieces done by Spotlight. Can you give use some insight into the reading habits of your readers?

Well, to my surprise, what I’m finding is that people really like long-form journalism, they like the long stories, the Spotlight stories, but they also like the other long stories that are just good stories. Stories that are really well told, well written and really interesting, people are willing to spend time reading them. And I guess I’m surprised by that but I’m also very heartened by that. People are reading the stories that I think are our best work. People are reading the stories that I like to do.

What’s the most read story on your website right now?

Well I’d have to check but I would bet... We did a Spotlight investigation of a hospital for war veterans and we discovered there was terrible mismanagement of this hospital. War veterans were needlessly being afflicted with paralysis because their spinal conditions weren’t being treated correctly. So, this story came out and within hours—not days, within hours—the two top administrators of the hospital were fired. And I didn’t check it but I would bet anything that it was the most read story on the website.

What’s it like to do investigative journalism under the Donald Trump government?

Well, there is a lot of great investigative reporting being done about President Trump and his administration and the business interests of the people in his family. So, I think in a way, even though journalism is financially very troubled right now, I think at the same time we are in a golden age for investigative reporting. There’s a lot of good work being done right now.

Any story that’s inspired you in the recent past?

I was very impressed with the Associated Press’s team of women reporters who broke the story on sea food from slavery. This was a story about how a lot of the fish that ends up on tables in America is produced by slave labour in South-east Asia. And I thought it was a fantastic story, It won the Pulitzer Prize for public service.

The expose of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church was the biggest story of your career. Personally, what stays with you?

Always question authority.

What’s your itinerary on this trip to India?

I’m at the tail-end of a big project for the Globe’s Spotlight team right now. So I have to get right back to Boston. Its very tragic. I’m very unhappy about it. But I’ve only got four days here. So far the only thing I’ve seen is my hotel and the wonderful people at this conference. I’d love to go see the Taj Mahal if there’s time.

Comments are welcome at feedback@livemint.com

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