Spotlight's Sacha Pfeiffer says investigative units are 'endangered species'

Sacha Pfeiffer, the real investigative reporter behind Rachel McAdams' Oscar-nominated role, hopes Spotlight will be a boon to her brand of journalism.
Boston Globe columnist and reporter Sacha Pfeiffer is portayed by actress Rachel McAdams in the Spotlight film. (Casey Curry/Invision/AP)

Spotlight, a meticulous retelling of a journalistic expose that shocked the world, is up for six Academy Awards — but its success comes at a difficult time for the industry it celebrates.

As newsrooms across North America bleed jobs, Sacha Pfeiffer of the Boston Globe investigative team says she hopes the acclaimed film will call attention to the importance of her craft. 

"I really hope this movie reminds people of how important investigative journalism is, and why it's important to buy a newspaper," she tells q host Shadrach Kabango in an interview about the film

"Without it we don't have powerful institutions questioned as often as they should be." 

Industry in 'rough shape' 

Spotlight follows the Boston Globe's real investigative unit, also called Spotlight, as it uncovers the widespread sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests — and a cover-up that implicated the church as a whole. The film highlights myriad obstacles along the way, from reluctant victims and hostile lawyers to dwindling resources and competing coverage. 

Pfeiffer's four-person investigative team pours over documents, knocks on doors, makes calls and digs through archives — chipping away at a story that would scandalize their largely Catholic reader base.

 The work is slow and gruelling, and entire seasons pass as the reporters lay the groundwork. It's a portrait of a kind of journalism Pfeiffer sees waning. 

To do the kind of work represented in Spotlight, she says, we need: skilled, trained reporters; editors, publishers and managers willing to give them resources; and, in a deadline-driven industry, the luxury of time.

"There are many organizations still trying to figure this out, and we haven't quite figured out what the new model might be," she says. 

"It is an endangered species, no doubt." 

Hear a relevant excerpt from the interview, or listen to the full interview here.

Sacha Pfeiffer, right, the real reporter behind Rachel McAdams' Oscar-nominated role, says her craft is "endangered". (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)