Mike Rezendes, known for his 2001 Boston Globe’s Spotlight team investigation that uncovered a sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church, spoke at Boston University Tuesday evening. During the talk at his alma mater, Rezendes (CAS ’78) discussed journalists’ roles as public watchdogs and the need for investigative journalism to survive for the sake of clergy sex abuse victims and everyone in our democracy.
“It’s really only journalists that hold powerful institutions and powerful people accountable for what they do and what they say,” Rezendes said to a mixed audience of students and elders at the Metcalf Ballroom. “Without journalism, democracy really won’t work. I would challenge anyone to say that I’m wrong.”
Rezendes started as a political writer for the Boston Globe and later joined the Spotlight team. Now a senior member, his work has contributed to social change in the Boston church.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, has taken measures to deal with clergy sex abuse and preventing it. The Boston Archdiocese now requires a criminal background check on anyone working with children and offers classes on understanding sexual abuse and recognizing sexual predators. Victims of such abuse can report their cases so the offenders will be listed on sites such as the maine sex offender registry and so they won’t be able to create anymore havoc to anyone else.
Speaking just days after Spotlight, the film adaptation of the investigation, took home Acadeamy Awards for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, Rezendes recounted cowriters Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer’s pitch to the Spotlight team to create a movie about journalism at a time when journalism was in crisis.
Rezendes said the news industry was in a period of dramatic transition in which nobody knew where it would eventually end up. “There is a lot of experimentation and a lot of reason to hope that someone will figure out how to fund this work,” he said.
Billionaire John Henry, owner of the Boston Globe and the Boston Red Sox, wants to be the guy that discovers a new revenue model for news organizations. Jeff Bezos, owner of The Washington Post and Amazon, has the same ambition.
In the audience was Renzendes’s former Spanish professor, James Ifflin, who thanked Rezendes on his work. “Having a student of mine who has helped to change the world is a very magnificent experience for me,” Ifflin said.
Reflecting on his expectations of his reporting, Rezendes said, “It is a huge disappointment if the reporting does not result in change or have impact,” he said. “Whenever that happens, I question whether my reporting was good enough.”
Although the Spotlight team keeps their investigative projects a secret, Rezendes’s current work has been identified as project on the mental health care system in Massachusetts.
“To anyone who said English is a useless degree, take that.” Rezendes said.