Case Study in Leadership and Accountability in “Spotlight”

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“Spotlight” is a film directed by Tom McCarthy that meticulously and authentically reconstructs actual events through a vivid social production drama (McCarthy, 2015). The focus is on journalists from The Boston Globe, who conducted an investigation during which evidence of child abuse among priests was discovered. This is an honest, well-played movie with a nostalgic flair of the 70s and 80s, telling a terrifying story. The film also shows leadership approaches in terms of society’s institutions. Therefore, it is essential to examine the role of leaders throughout the movie by discussing their methods, actions of institutions, impact, and further steps.

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What Happened?

The film “Spotlight” is based on a real story of American journalism. A group of reporters conducted an investigation and revealed the violence of priests against children. Two features characterize the film; these are acting and well-developed scenarios, considering the minor details. The story begins in 2000, when the new editor-in-chief, Marty Baron, joined the leading Boston city newspaper, the Boston Globe (Borins & Herst, 2020). First, he assigns the Spotlight team to investigate the Catholic Church (McCarthy, 2015). The critical fact is that the newspaper has had evidence of child abuse by priests in Massachusetts for a decade.

Thus, the case is taken over by the Spotlight Investigation team. It consists of three people Michael Rezendes, Sacha Pfeiffer, and Matt Carroll, starring Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian D’Arcy James (Bishop, 2020). The group of journalists is led by Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), who questions lawyers, victims, and other participants in the case (Bishop, 2020). However, like many organizations in a church-loyal city, it has been hiding an inconvenient truth. Thus, a team of six journalists and editors discovered that the victims’ attorney handled all cases privately and paid the complainants compensation from the Church, taking his share (Borins & Herst, 2020).

It also turns out that the issue is far from an isolated one, and the problem is much broader than Boston. Overall, the film’s scenario and actors complement each other. “Spotlight” is dominated by the story, so there are no main characters; actors support the development of the plot. Using the example of a group of correspondents from the Boston Globe, the film shows the investigation mechanism and search for the truth as a fundamental institution of all journalism.


The film “Spotlight” presents two leadership approaches that can be considered adequate. It also teaches important lessons about management through the example of actions. The first leader is the new editor Marty Baron, who brought fresh ideas into the newspaper work. He gave directions to investigate the Church case politely with respect to others’ work. His attitude and politeness helped the team start an investigation regardless of the controversial character of the topic.

Moreover, Marty was ready to stand up for his employees in front of Cardinal Bernard Law, being Archbishop of Boston. The confrontation between the authority of the Church and the Press is personified in the episode of the meeting between Baron and Cardinal (Bishop, 2020). At the same time, the Church went to a mutually beneficial offer of cooperation. However, the independence of the Press and its lack of engagement and sovereignty were expressively emphasized by Baron’s statement about the complete independence of the Press.

Moreover, the film depicts servant-infused leadership modeled by Jesus, emphasizing that leadership is a service position, not just a position held. An example of such an approach is Robby; he puts himself out of journalists’ daily routines. The Spotlight leader serves the subordinates performing the hardest work. Servant leaders’ role is to help the team to act as efficiently as possible (Blanchard et al., 2016). For instance, servant leadership is explained through the statement that “being God means coming down from His throne and giving Himself to serve” (The king who led with a towel, n.d.).

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Therefore, leaders should empower their people, encourage their development and growth, and foster a culture of mutual support in the company (Ibarra & Scoular, 2019). Thus, the servant leader is primarily a servant, starting with a natural desire to perform duties for another person. Then the person makes a conscious choice and becomes a leader (Ibarra & Scoular, 2019). Therefore, Robby is an example of a servant leader who prioritizes the development of the investigation and well-being of his team members instead of trying to strengthen his own position and avoid the Church scandal.

Another essential quality of a leader is admitting mistakes made by him/her. By the end of the film, it becomes clear that there is not only public silence but also the newspaper’s unwillingness to notice the problem earlier (Borins & Herst, 2020). Evidence about pedophile priests came to the newspaper before 2001 (Borins & Herst, 2020). It was Robbie Robinson who once sent the first letter about the precedent to the trash, ignored the second, and only in 2002 investigated the case (Borins & Herst, 2020). However, admitting a mistake is also necessary, and he does it at the end of the film.


Catholic Church

The religious institutions at all times symbolized the stronghold of the moral foundations of society. Nevertheless, in reality, it turns out that the Catholic Church was concealing pedophilia scandals. The higher clergy were well aware of such cases but did not take any preventive measures, covering up crimes made by priests (Borins & Herst, 2020). The Church has a powerful lobby of defenders in the person of judges and chief government officials. The priests chose lonely, unfortunate victims from poor or troubled families, motivating their intervention and even violence by the will of heaven. For children, it was difficult not to trust them because everyone knew these people from childhood.


The Press is a tool for popularizing information; it cannot produce its ideas; it can only broadcast them. However, the film shows a real opportunity to launch a high-profile revelation process in the Press. In the film, freedom of speech is regarded as a social value (Bishop, 2020). According to Borins and Herst (2020, p. 771), the principal mission of investigative reporting is to “expose abuses of power and betrayals of public trust by government, business, and other institutions.” In the movie, the journalists are shown as people interested in an objective and systematic reflection of details related to the acts of the priests.

As a result, for the sake of their investigation, the Boston Globe is not ready to exchange and make compromises with either church representatives or representatives of the city authorities. The Spotlight team is shown as a group that is ready and able to defend society’s values and objectively talk about how the lives and souls of children are mutilated.

Civil and Criminal Justice System

The veil of silence around the problem, the existence of which the public could not believe, was achieved by such methods as exchanges over an issue at a charity evening, a handshake while playing golf, disapproving facial expressions, or expressive glances. Everything was covered up by parents, neighbors, police officers, prosecutors, and judges. After the corresponding article appeared in the newspaper, people started telling their stories (McCarthy, 2015). The events following the Boston Globe publication led to an urgent change in Massachusetts law to prosecute those who did not take action to prevent child sexual abuse. Church representatives become the persons required to report cases of pedophilia to the authorities.

Regarding society’s attitude, the film’s plot traces the evolution of the character’s attitude to the material being developed. Reportage in the Boston Globe triggered the editorial staff not only to get a sensation but to show the full extent of the tragedy that was happening to Boston’s parishioners (Bishop, 2020). It is apparent that the priority desire of the Boston Globe employees is to publicly inform the townspeople about what has been happening in the city over the past years and decades.

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Advocacy Organizations

The film involves the question of how to be a lawyer when they have to represent the interests of dishonest people. Advocacy is presented through two characters: Eric MacLeish, appearing to profit from covering up clerical abuse through out-of-court settlements, and another attorney, Mitchell Garabedian, who, on the contrary, openly sued the priests. The two lawyers with whom the newspapermen communicate are interesting examples – at first, they are divided into “good” and “bad.” Nevertheless, with the story developing, the victims’ attorney, who dealt with issues out of court, acted in such a way because his clients would have received much less in court.

Moreover, previously, Eric McLeish sent the Boston Globe a list of 20 pedophile priests, but the latter had not been noticed. According to Borins and Herst (2020, p. 778), “even though the lawyer himself had revealed details of the allegations to the paper: “I sent you guys a list of names, and you buried it.” Thus, the advocacy organizations’ fault is debatable as they were forced to be careful with the Church.

What Impacted You?

The Spotlight’s narrative is that it does not try to objectively assess what happened. The events become inextricably linked with interpretation (Bishop, 2020). For example, characters mainly sit in offices, courtrooms, bars, and cafes. Each new conversation, each new fact that appears on the surface, begins to draw closer to the journalists. The one aspect that the film has shown me is that employees of the Boston Globe are ordinary people trying to find the truth rather than gain popularity in society. I am impressed by the understanding of how unpunished the church representatives remained, being involved in this scandal. I liked that Tom McCarthy focused on the professionals in their field without being distracted by the massive institution of the Catholic Church.

Journalists are ordinary people who honestly do their job for the sake of all the fundamental principles of the American nation. Furthermore, the activity of Michael Rezendes is characterized by seeking the truth and justice, which never extinguished in him. In contrast, Robby is calm, reasonable, thoughtful, and balanced. An authentic leader is ready not to hide his head in the sand but to admit mistakes as they are. The film confirmed my willingness to do the job properly and purposefully. The film is captivating and raises questions, making me empathize.

Moving Forward

After analyzing the lessons and themes depicted in the film “Spotlight, “I know that it is essential to stay strong and determined despite the challenging times. The burden of leadership can get more challenging with each step until the leader realizes that he/she can no longer bear it. On the contrary, “Spotlight” shows that if the leader’s task is defined differently, particularly to inspire all members of the organization to develop it in the direction chosen – then all together, the team can safely achieve the desired goal. In the example of the Boston Globe, people can deliberately move away from the Catholic faith without dropping or losing confidence in themselves and universal human values.

Accordingly, even though this is a film made with the participation of well-known actors, it is not possible to single out someone. The focus is shifted towards The Boston Globe, and the main character is in the journalistic profession. McCarthy approaches it with a complete understanding of the issue, convincingly proving that people with notebooks in their hands are worth something. Leaders such as Marty Barton, who can bring their passion to business, have an advantage as their inner power encourages colleagues.

Thus, my further development as a servant leader should focus on setting the right meaningful goals and advancing communication with others. The targets might be set not at the mission level but at the level of values. The leader focuses on the result and is responsible for it under all circumstances. Whereas other leadership concepts concentrate on developing an organization or increasing revenue, leadership as a service focuses on the growth of people – not only professionally but also personally. While the servant leader should pay significant attention to the needs of the employees, he/she also needs to have a clear understanding of the success of individual projects and the organization as a whole. In addition to conceptualizing goals and strategies, a servant leader needs the foresight to anticipate potential obstacles that could slow down a project or interfere with deliverables.

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Bishop, R. (2020). “Not an ounce of Hollywood bullshit”: A narrative analysis of news media coverage of Spotlight’s Oscar win. Journal of Communication Inquiry, 44(2),157-177. Web.

Blanchard, K., Hodges, P., & Hendry, P. (2016). Lead like Jesus revisited: Lessons from the greatest leadership role model of all time. MJF Books.

Borins, S., & Herst, B. (2020). Beyond “Woodstein”: Narratives of investigative journalism. Journalism Practice, 14(7), 769-790. Web.

Ibarra, H., & Scoular, A. (2019). The leader as coach. Harvard Business Review, 97(6), 110-119.

McCarthy, T. (2015). Spotlight [Film]. Participant Media.

The king who led with a towel – Jesus, the servant leadership role model. (n.d.). Claybury International. Web.

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