Skip to content

Jour­nalism can be fun, par­tic­u­larly when you’re out chasing hot sto­ries and scaring up killer quo­ta­tions. But it can also be rather mun­dane, namely when you’re waiting around for sources to return your phone call, pouring over thou­sands of doc­u­ments, or sit­ting through local gov­ern­ment meetings.

Which is why when Hol­ly­wood pro­ducers approached former North­eastern jour­nalism pro­fessor Walter Robinson and the team of Boston Globe reporters whose “Spot­light” series broke open the Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandal in 2002, they had some trepidation.

“We were frankly a little skep­tical,” Robinson, AS’74, said in a phone inter­view last week. “We didn’t think how we make the sausage would really make for a great movie.”

But the team ulti­mately acqui­esced, and the result is the fea­ture film Spot­light. The film, which opens Nov. 6, chron­i­cles the reporters’ ini­tial inves­ti­ga­tion into hun­dreds of priest who had allegedly molested young chil­dren. The reporters’ work earned the Globe the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

The movie does have some fic­tion­al­ized scenes, but it is amaz­ingly accu­rate in how it por­trays the actual jour­nalism we did. This is really pretty much what hap­pened.
—said Walter Robinson, AS’74

According to the Globe, “Spot­light” is the oldest con­tin­u­ously oper­ating news­paper inves­tiga­tive unit in the United States.

Robinson, who taught at Northeastern’s School of Jour­nalism from 2007 to 2014, was the editor of the “Spot­light” team. He is por­trayed in the movie by Academy Award-​​winning actor Michael Keaton.

“I spent a fair amount of time talking with Michael,” said Robinson, who is now an editor-​​at-​​large at the Globe. “But before we even met, he had already studied my voice and picked up some of my man­ner­isms. A lot of my friends who have seen the film said, ‘Boy, did he get you.’”

On Thursday evening, the Col­lege of Arts, Media and Design will host an advanced screening of Spot­light at the AMC Loews Boston Common. After the movie, School of Jour­nalism director Jonathan Kaufman will mod­erate a panel dis­cus­sion that will include Robinson, the Globe’s Sasha Pfeiffer, and other mem­bers of the “Spot­light” team.

Robinson spent time on the set while the movie was filming in Toronto. He noted that it was inter­esting to get a behind-​​the-​​scenes look at the making of a movie about the behind-​​the-​​scenes nature of jour­nalism. He and the “Spot­light” team, he said, were really heart­ened by the effort of director Thomas McCarthy and his screen­writing partner Josh Singer to accu­rately por­tray how the reporters cov­ered this story.

“They spent an enor­mous amount time doing research,” Robinson said. “The movie does have some fic­tion­al­ized scenes, but it is amaz­ingly accu­rate in how it por­trays the actual jour­nalism we did. This is really pretty much what happened.”

While the film only covers the start of the inves­ti­ga­tion, Robinson’s “Spot­light” team wrote some 600 sto­ries about the sex abuse scandal in a single year. Reflecting on the effort, he noted that there wasn’t much the team missed but also acknowl­edged that he would have liked more time to fine-​​tune the work.

“I say this about every story: I wish I had that story back for one more day because I think I could make it better,” Robinson said.