June 27, 2017

Spotlight Journalist Illuminates Investigation

by: Jonathan Chandra ‘19

Staff Writer

Matt Carroll, a Pulitzer-Prize winning data journalist responsible for uncovering systemic child sex abuse in the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, spoke on Oct. 17 about his role in the investigation and the changing landscape of journalism.

Students and faculty filled the Barrington Cinema Room to hear Carroll deliver a lecture titled “Spotlight and the Future of News: How Technology is Changing Both the Pursuit of Big Stories and the Presentation of Them.” The lecture was part of a series of “Masterclass” events hosted by the Communication Arts Department.

Professor Eric Convey, current adjunct and former long-time reporter for the Boston Herald, introduced Carroll as “one of those rare journalists that’s comfortable with people and comfortable with data.”

A former member of the Spotlight Team—The Boston Globe’s investigative journalism unit—Carroll ran the database that helped break a series of stories in 2002, revealing that hundreds of priests in the Boston area had sexually abused children. Documents showed that then-Cardinal Bernard Law and other higher-ups had knowledge of these abuses.

In recognition of their efforts, the team was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. Spotlight, a recent film based on the investigation was awarded the 2015 Academy Award for Best Picture.

As part of his presentation, Carroll showed a picture of the New York Times website from the day after 9/11, which occurred while the Spotlight investigation was underway. He drew attention to the website’s  simple appearance in order to illustrate how news has changed since his time.

Carroll attributed the success of the Spotlight investigation to the initiative of Martin “Marty” Barron, then-Boston Globe’s Editor-In-Chief, but also to its placement in history. Print news was at its financial peak, which helped fund the investigation, while the internet was becoming a force at the time and helped spread the story.

“This really was one of the investigative news stories to really go viral . . . if this story had broken in the Globe ten years earlier I don’t think it would have been nearly as big, it would have stayed a local story,” he said.

“The back of the envelope calculation is about a million dollars,” he said on the cost of the investigation. “Frankly, I don’t know if a lot of news organizations can afford to do that now.”

Carroll talked about the ways in which newspapers are adapting to the “Internet Age.” He also spoke shortly about the Spotlight film, and how the filmmakers had worked to incorporate the team’s input.

When asked about his proudest role as a member of the Spotlight Team, Carroll said (which was met with the audience’s laughter),“I guess it really was being the geek. I came up with the idea of the spreadsheet.”

He added that he was proud of participating directly in the investigation, specifically in interviewing Maryetta Dussourd. Former priest John J. Geoghan had befriended her prior to molesting the seven boys under her care.

Carroll said, “I mentioned Father Geoghan and her tears just started falling out of her eyes. It [the conversation] was like three-and-a-half hours . . . Those were the kinds of things we did, was talk to these poor people who had gone through these horrific circumstances. We all did that.”

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