Tom Farragher to leave Spotlight, return to newsroom

Tom Farragher
Tom Farragher

Tom Farragher is stepping aside as the editor of The Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team. As Globe editor Brian McGrory points out, Farragher, who’ll become an associate editor, is leaving on a high note — the recently published “Shadow Campus” series, which documented dangerous housing conditions for college students who live off campus. McGrory’s full memo to the staff is below.

If we accept that all good things must come to an end, then I’ve now learned that all great things are finite as well. Tom Farragher has let me know that his eight years as editor of the Spotlight Team are enough. At his request, Tom will return to the newsroom to write high impact enterprise stories, report and help oversee projects, and contribute to our coverage of major news events, taking the well-earned title of associate editor in this new role.

Tom’s decision closes out a spectacular run in Spotlight, one which saw an ambitious expansion of the reach and scope of our elite investigative unit. Under Tom’s leadership, there were no sacred cows, no targets too big or powerful, no topics too unwieldy or complex. The results were immediate and deep — state reviews, Justice Department investigations, IRS raids, and grand jury indictments. When Tom writes (he’s a stellar wordsmith, by the way), systems change and officials are often at risk of jail.

Consider for a moment the series on the state Probation Department. The Supreme Judicial Court suspended the agency head by lunchtime the following day. Federal indictments followed state indictments, and the project provided the blueprint for the criminal trial that is unfolding in US District Court.

Consider, too, the series on Partners HealthCare. When we published, health insurance premiums were rising at more than 10 percent a year. Municipalities were laying off teachers and cops to afford coverage. Spotlight exposed the monopolistic practices of our elite hospitals, spurring a state attorney general’s review, a federal probe, and vows by Partners to hold down costs — promises that have, for the most part, been fulfilled.

The series on lenient dispositions of operating under the influence cases, which involved the laborious sifting of thousands of documents, won the Polk Award, among the most prestigious in investigative reporting. Last year’s taxi series revealed fundamental injustices in a system right in front of all of our eyes. The prison suicide series, Tom’s first, literally saved lives.

Here I’ll confide that when I took this job in January 2013, Tom let me know that he hoped to leave Spotlight within months. “I’ve stared at the ceiling for too many sleepless nights,” he said. I asked him to stay for another project, and it was one of the smartest moves I’ve ever made. The result was the recently published “Shadow Campus,” a vital, sprawling series with multiple antagonists that revealed how overreaching universities, coupled with unethical landlords, are placing college students not only in squalor, but danger. And the city agency in charge of addressing problems just isn’t up to the task. The reforms have already begun.

Tom also shared in the Globe’s 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for our investigation into clergy sexual abuse.

One more thing about Tom, especially for those who haven’t gotten to know him since he descended to the mezzanine eight years ago: Tom is a world class colleague, something to which his charges in Spotlight will readily attest. He oozes kindness. He’s utterly hilarious. He’s deeply empathetic. You’re going to like having him back upstairs.

Before he arrives, though, I’ve asked Tom to finish a couple of critical follow-ups to the off-campus housing series. Tom will then take his prominent place among the four other editors emeritus who oversaw Spotlight in the forty-plus years since it was launched – Tim Leland, Steve Kurkjian, Gerry O’Neill, and Walter Robinson.

I’ll come back to you soon with word on the next editor. More important, though, please offer Tom your congratulations, best wishes, and sincerest thanks.

Brian