What's behind the scenes - Shawn Loughlin editorial
Maybe it was all that congratulatory back-slapping in last week’s issue as The Citizen marked its anniversary, but it got me thinking about what we do here every week and how, just like so many other jobs, it runs deeper than the final product.
When Jess was a student teacher, helping with a class at East Wawanosh Public School, I presented, as a guest teacher, a lesson on how to write a story for a newspaper. To illustrate the process of writing a news story, I drew an iceberg on the blackboard, comparing the visible 10 per cent of the iceberg to the written story and the other 90 per cent to the research, interviews and other work that goes into a finished story.
Watching Spotlight recently, the Academy Award-winning depiction of The Boston Globe investigation into systemic abuse and cover-up by the Catholic Church in Boston, I was struck by a quote late in the movie. Once the story is laid bare before the journalists working to uncover it, the finger-pointing begins. Fueled by guilt that they could have done something earlier, the reporters turn on one another. But Liev Schreiber, portraying the real-life Marty Baron, one of the greatest newspaper editors in history, reminds them the process is the job.
“Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around in the dark. Suddenly a light gets turned on and there’s a fair share of blame to go around.”
While those comments can be the perfect way to describe most of the work journalists, especially investigative journalists, do, it really can apply to so many other professions. It’s about research, trial and error and, frankly, getting things wrong a lot of the time.
Using the Catholic Church investigation as a means of explanation, there were plenty of handshakes and at-a-boys when the Spotlight team published some of the most important stories of the last 50 years. No doubt the team would ride that enthusiasm through their Pulitzer Prize win and the recognition the Spotlight film brought them. But what that movie shows so well is the hard work and sacrifice required to publish a story of that magnitude. Doors being slammed in their faces, the threat of physical violence and the potential for serious legal action and financial ruin would more accurately describe the team’s days during the investigation. However, even those sensational days might be a stretch. In fact, most of their days were likely spent poring through directories or court documents or trying to track down victims.
Boring stuff, right? But that’s the job.
Just like a young police officer who thinks he’s signing up for car chases, gun fights and negotiating with terrorists. It must be a shock to the system to sit in a car on a 12-hour stakeout or monitor a speed trap for hours on end. The job is more talk radio than the Lethal Weapon movies.
In fact, right now all eyes are on scientists and doctors as they work to find a vaccine for COVID-19. Most of that work is trial and error.
Doctors like Theresa Tam or Anthony Fauci are working their way through this pandemic just like all of us. They’re doing their best, but they’ve been wrong along the way. Now, people want to throw their missteps in their faces, like they’ve never made a mistake.
For Fauci, there’s throwing out a first pitch or being on the cover of Time, but much of his work, and the work of other epidemiologists, is spent, like Spotlight’s Baron said, rooting around in the dark, hoping for some light.
Many careers are more grind than glamour, but often the juice is worth the squeeze.