Ben Bradlee Jr. never thought he would inspire a movie — much less an Academy Award-winning one.
But he and his team of journalists at The Boston Globe did just that with their work uncovering sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, which won a 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. Their work was portrayed in the film “Spotlight,” which took home the Oscar for Best Picture at the 2016 ceremony.
“Who knew that it would be: (A) a good movie, and (B) win an Academy Award?” Bradlee told The Tribune. “We never even thought a movie would really be made of this.”
Bradlee is now parlaying his experiences with both the Boston Globe reporting and subsequent filmmaking into a simple message: Investigative journalism is still important — possibly now more than ever.
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He shared that message Saturday night as the keynote speaker at the closing gala of Cal Poly’s two-day “100 Years of Delivering the News” centennial celebration of the university’s student media.
“After all, the best stories don’t come to you, you have to go find them,” Bradlee told his audience Saturday.
Local newspapers need to rethink their newsroom organizations so reporters have the time to dig out investigative work, he said.
“I’m worried about investigative reporting at small regional or local newspapers,” Bradlee said. “They are worried that it’s a luxury they can no longer support.”
Bradlee said he thought newsrooms could free up some of their limited staff resources by moving away from covering every local city hall or governmental meeting and focusing more on enterprise reporting on in-depth issues.
“There needs to be a new paradigm in the news business,” he said.
Throughout the speech, Bradlee harkened back to the Boston Globe’s meticulous research uncovering the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston’s repeated cover-ups of priests sexually abusing children. Reporting by the Spotlight investigative team took two years, beginning in 2001.
Their series of stories ultimately had a global impact, although the Globe reporting team didn’t anticipate that at the outset.
“You never really know what impact a story you have will have on the public until it is published,” he said during his speech.
Bradlee, as assistant managing editor responsible for investigations and projects, edited the Globe’s two-years’ worth of stories detailing the allegations and cover-ups.
“This was a delicate topic, to say the least,” Bradlee said before the gala. “There was so much shame attached to this, to their individual experiences; but I think this empowered many of them to come out and tell their story.”
A spotlight on student media
During Cal Poly’s “100 Years of Delivering the News” celebration on Friday and Saturday, the university held several events to highlight the achievements of its student journalists and journalism department over the past century.
The schedule included the Jim Hayes Symposium for Advancing Integrity in Journalism and Communication; an Innovation Showcase; Mustang News Open House; and various journalism alumni get-togethers.
The Spotlight Gala, at which Bradlee spoke, was followed by the college inducting four people into the inaugural class of the Mustang Media Hall of Fame.
Among those was cult favorite “Weird Al” Yankovic, who, according to school lore, recorded his breakout parody “My Bologna” in the bathroom of the Graphic Arts building on campus. While attending Cal Poly, Yankovic was a student DJ with KCPR.
Yankovic and former California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, now a Santa Cruz County supervisor, were in attendance Saturday night to receive their awards. The two other Hall of Fame inductees — Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former Cal Poly journalism department Chairman George Ramos and former Cal Poly President Robert E. Kennedy — were honored posthumously.