Makers of Spotlight settle with BC spokesman Jack Dunn

As you may have heard, the makers of the Oscar-winning movie Spotlight have reached a settlement with Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn about his claim that the film depicts him in an unfavorable manner regarding the cover-up of the pedophile-priest scandal.

Spotlight tells the story of The Boston Globe‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation that revealed that Cardinal Bernard Law, then the archbishop, was directly involved in reassigning priests who’d been accused of sexual abuse. The Dunn character is seen taking part in a meeting about a pedophile priest at Boston College High School.

The Associated Press reports on the settlement here; The New York Times covers it here; the Globe here; and the Boston Herald here.

As part of the settlement, the filmmakers acknowledge that the lines attributed to Dunn were “fabricated,” which is kind of odd when you think about it. Spotlight, of course, is a work of fiction, though based on true events. In that sense, every line in Spotlight is fabricated. The question is whether Dunn was portrayed in a manner that is fundamentally false.

The filmmakers have contended from the time Dunn went public with his complaints in Globe column by Kevin Cullen that Dunn is not portrayed in a negative light—rather, that he comes across “as an alumnus and public-relations professional from an affiliated institution, was concerned about the reputation of BC High, and acted in concert with his affiliation and professional training,” as the filmmakers put it in a letter reported by the Globe last November. In the settlement, the filmmakers say:

As is the case with most movies based on historical events, ‘Spotlight’ contains fictionalized dialogue that was attributed to Mr. Dunn for dramatic effect. We acknowledge that Mr. Dunn was not part of the Archdiocesan cover-up.

From what I can tell, there’s nothing in the settlement that contradicts what the filmmakers said last November, or that calls into question the recollections of Globe reporters Walter Robinson and Sacha Pfeiffer, who were at the BC High meeting.

At the time that this controversy broke, I wrote a piece for WGBH News about the hazards of true-life movies that freely mix fact and fiction. I certainly don’t question the pain that Dunn says he experienced. From the beginning the dispute has struck me as a genuine disagreement between him and the filmmakers over how he comes across in the movie.

That said, I’ve only seen Spotlight once, and I’d like to see that scene again.

Lawyers for Jack Dunn and ‘Spotlight’ engage in war of words

The dispute between Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn and the makers of “Spotlight” is escalating. “Spotlight,” as you no doubt know, is a movie about The Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting on the pedophile-priest scandal in the Catholic Church.

For the past few days, starting with a Kevin Cullen column in Sunday’s Globe, Dunn has been making media appearances claiming that he was falsely portrayed in the movie as uncaring toward victims at BC High School. The filmmakers have pushed back hard, arguing that the depiction of Dunn is accurate and that it was vetted by Globe reporters Walter Robinson and Sacha Pfeiffer.

According to an exchange of letters that I obtained this evening, Dunn’s lawyers are accusing the filmmakers of portraying Dunn in a way that is “defamatory” as well as “false, malicious and fabricated.” The letter on behalf of Dunn, addressed primarily to screenwriters Tom McCarthy and Joshua Singer (McCarthy is also the director), says in part:

In general, the film, in dramatic fashion, divides the individuals it depicts into those who heroically searched for the truth about the horrific sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy and those who sought to suppress facts about the abuse. In a critical scene in the film, which is nearly entirely fabricated, Spotlight squarely and falsely places Mr. Dunn in the category of those who actively attempted to interfere with and thwart the efforts of the Boston Globe reporters to unearth and report on the abuse scandal.

In their answer, the filmmakers’ lawyers “respectfully, but vigorously, disagree with your allegation that the film defames Mr. Dunn.” Here’s a key excerpt:

Most importantly, the film’s portrayal of Mr. Dunn is substantially true. It is based on the recollections of Walter Robinson and was vetted by him and Sacha Pfeiffer. Mr. Dunn’s overarching concern for Boston College High School (and Boston College) is reflected in contemporaneous and later media accounts. Indeed, there is no evidence that Mr. Dunn was an outspoken advocate for transparency or accountability before the Boston Globe broke the story, or that he came forward on his own to initiate an investigation into abuse at BC High before the Globe’s coverage forced the school to act.

I am posting these rather lengthy documents in the interest of putting them before the public in advance of what could be a significant legal battle.

Click here (pdf) for the full letter (with exhibits) from Dunn’s lawyers, David H. Rich and Howard M. Cooper of the Boston firm Todd & Weld.

Click here (pdf) for the full letter (also with exhibits) from the filmmakers’ lawyer, Alonzo Wickers IV of the Los Angeles firm Davis Wright Tremaine. No, I do not know why parts of it have been highlighted in yellow.

For background and some relevant links, see my commentary for WGBHNews.org, which has been updated with a statement from the filmmakers.

Update: The Globe has now published an article on the dispute.

“Spotlight” is “All the President’s Men” for a new generation

MV5BMjIyOTM5OTIzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDkzODE2NjE@._V1__SX1152_SY632_On Thursday night I had a chance to see an advance screening of “Spotlight,” sponsored by Northeastern’s School of Journalism and the College of Arts, Media and Design. And I was blown away. How often does a movie for which you have high expectations actually live up to them?

As soon as it was over, Northeastern’s Barry Bluestone said something that I was thinking: this is “All the President’s Men” for a new generation. It is at least as good a piece of filmmaking. And it underscores the vital role that journalism plays in hold powerful institutions to account — in this case the Catholic Church, which at one time was the most powerful Boston institution of all.

After the film, five of the Globe journalists portrayed in the film — Walter Robinson, Michael Rezendes, Matt Carroll, Sacha Pfeiffer and Ben Bradlee Jr. — stuck around for a brief discussion. (By the way, I know Robinson fairly well, and Michael Keaton is scary-good at capturing his demeanor.) Two of them, Robinson and Carroll, are Northeastern graduates. Robinson also worked as a journalism professor at Northeastern for seven years before returning to the Globe in 2014.

Congratulations to everyone involved in “Spotlight.” I hope it helps the public understand why the work that great journalists do matters to all of us.

Expanded Globe Business section makes its debut

Globe Business pageThe Boston Globe has all age groups covered in its expanded Business section, which debuts today.

For younger readers, there is this story, by Stefanie Friedhoff, on a start-up that sells highly reflective paint to make bicycles more visible in the dark.

And for old folks like me, tech columnist Hiawatha Bray has advice for what to do about the blizzard of passwords you want your loved ones to be able to access after you’ve departed this vale of tears. I’m going to bookmark that one.

When it comes to newspapers, more is better. The section offers a nice mix of stories and is attractively designed. (I took a rare peek at the replica edition so that I could see what it looks like in print.) And for those who still care about such things, Business is once again a standalone section.

To its credit, the Globe has also assigned reporter Katie Johnston to cover “workplace and income inequality.” I’d like to see her reporting supplemented with a strong, opinionated voice along the lines of the way columnist Shirley Leung chronicles the local power players.

Here’s the press release:

The Boston Globe Launches New and Expanded Standalone Business Section

Tuesday through Friday section, with new staff and features, debuts December 4; launch sponsored by University of Massachusetts

Boston (Dec. 4, 2014) — The Boston Globe today launches a new and expanded business section. Tuesday through Friday, and Sunday, the print version of Business will be a standalone section, giving it a more prominent position in the newspaper.

The new section — also on BostonGlobe.com — debuts at a time when Boston and the region is at the front-end of an unprecedented period of growth. The section will cover the power players and big-thinkers helping to make the area a national hub for innovation, as well as those struggling to raise their economic standing in a state with some of the nation’s highest housing and energy costs.

Readers can also expect more personalities, more strong-voiced writing, and more dramatic design. It’s a section that reflects the fact that people work in many different ways these days, and that jobs intersect with private lives in ways that weren’t imagined not so long ago. It’s not just about what people do for work, but how they do it, where they do it, and what they do after work. It’s about business as part of life.

“When we at the Globe think about business as a subject, it encompasses so much more than stock prices and mergers, profits and losses,” said Mark Pothier, Globe business editor. “There are bold ideas and life stories behind every business and business decision. There are people leading the way and those who are left behind. We want to make the section relevant to a much broader range of readers than a traditional business section.”

New features include:

  • Bold Types: A destination for anyone interested in who’s doing what. Think of this as the Business version of the popular Names column in the Metro section, with CEOs and startup geniuses instead of movie stars.
  • Talking Points: A fast-paced summary of what the time-starved business person needs to start the day — from local to national to global
  • Agenda: What’s on tap for tomorrow and what might you want to attend? This could feature events like the next Federal Reserve meeting, a product giveaway or charity event
  • Workspace: Highlights trends and unusual workspaces, from the back of a bus to ultra-hip high tech offices
  • Build: Covers real estate, new projects and architecture
  • Double Shot: Washington-based reporter Matt Viser’s column expands from politics to focus on the coffee-drinking habits of businesspeople.
  • The Download: A brisk digital dossier of someone in the business world – their social media habits, last photo taken, most-used apps and more
  • Business Lunch: Everything from the hot spots to get business done to the eating habits of the power brokers
  • There and Back: From commuting horror stories to favorite destinations for conferences to travel tips from airport veterans
  • Shop: New stores, new trends, new products, good deals, potential scams and more
  • Number of the Day: One number can say a lot

In advance of the new section, Cynthia Needham, formerly the Globe’s political editor, joined Business.

New hires include Jon Chesto, formerly managing editor of the Boston Business Journal, and Sacha Pfeiffer, formerly senior reporter and host of WBUR’s “All Things Considered.” Prior to joining WBUR six years ago, Pfeiffer spent a decade at the Globe, most notably as part of the Spotlight Team that won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the clergy abuse scandal. She will cover nonprofits, venture capital, philanthropy, and the people and motivations behind them.

The new section also includes coverage from BetaBoston.com, the source for innovation and tech news, from the latest start-ups to the newest biotechnology breakthrough. BetaBoston.com will also share and link to the expanded Globe business coverage.

The University of Massachusetts (UMass) is the section launch sponsor. “As the state’s largest university, we are always following changes and trends in the regional business landscape,” said Robert P. Connolly, UMass Vice President for Communications. “We value this expanded coverage as a member of the business community and value the opportunity to support its launch.”

The new Business section is the latest example of the Globe’s commitment to providing an unparalleled depth of information and perspective on a variety of coverage areas. Its Capital (politics) and Address (real estate) sections are the most recent examples.

The Globe’s new Business section debuts Dec. 4, 2014. All content will be available at BostonGlobe.com/business and readers can also follow Business on Twitter at @BostonGlobe and @GlobeBiz.

Big moves as Globe prepares to expand its business section

Some big media moves were announced a little while ago as The Boston Globe plans to ramp up its business section next month. First the email sent to the staff by editor Brian McGrory and business editor Mark Pothier. Then a bit of analysis.

Hey all,

We’d like to fill you in on some terrific developments in our Business department, all of them designed to build on the exceptional work that went into our Market Basket coverage and so many other news and enterprise stories over the past year.

First, we’re reconfiguring the paper to give Business its own section front on Tuesdays through Fridays, starting the first week of December. In fact, Business will get a free-standing eight-page section, somewhere between Metro and Sports. We’ve worked with Mark Morrow and Dan Zedek, as well as an entire team of creative editors and reporters, to conceive a bold new approach to business coverage, both in form and function. There’ll be a more contemporary look, a plethora of new features, and a renewed commitment to the most insightful and energetic business coverage in New England. We’ve got everything but a new name, which is currently, to my chagrin, “Business.” Please offer better ideas.

For this new section, we need additional talent, and that’s the best part of this note. We’ve locked in three major moves and we’re working on still others. To wit:

— Cynthia Needham, the Globe’s invaluable political editor for the past four years, the person who has taken us deftly from Brown v Warren to Baker v Coakley, and through so much in between, is heading to Business to help oversee a talented team of reporters and key parts of the new section. There’s not a better person in the industry to help the cause. Cynthia was a vital part of the conception and launch of Capital, our wonderfully popular Friday political section. She knows inherently that journalistic sweetspot where insight meets accessibility. And she is among the smartest, hardest-working, and best-connected editors in the building, all of which is why we asked her to undertake this crucial assignment. Cynthia will start at her new post, as one of Mark’s deputies, next week.

— Jon Chesto, the managing editor of the Boston Business Journal, is coming to the Globe November 24, as a reporter covering what we’ll describe as a “power beat.” It’s a great get for us. Jon’s among the absolute best connected reporters in the city, with a deep knowledge of how commerce works and the major figures who shape it. He’s also an energetic workhorse, an irrepressible reporter who will help breathe fresh energy into the department with smart stories. Before his stint at the BBJ, Jon spent a big chunk of time as the business editor at the Patriot Ledger, where he won a string of national awards for his weekly column, “Mass. Market.”

— Sacha Pfeiffer will arrive back home to the Globe the first week of December. There’s no way to overstate the significance of this. Sacha is legend here, which has nothing to do with Rachel McAdams, but everything to do with her exceptional reporting over a decade-long stint at the Globe, during which she shared in the Pulitzer Prize for the Spotlight series on clergy child abuse and a litany of national honors for other stories. She’s been a star at WBUR since 2008, recognizable for her expert reporting and authoritative on-air presence. The exact particulars of Sacha’s beat are still being worked out, but it will focus on wealth management and power, along with a weekly column tailored to the huge and vital nonprofit world in greater Boston. Sacha, like Jon, will report to Cynthia.

We’re aiming to make our business coverage a signature part of the Globe, both in print and online, which shouldn’t be hard, given that we’re starting from a very strong position. Our reporters have attacked their beats with gusto. Shirley [Leung] has proven to be a must-read columnist every time she taps on her keyboard. Our editors have poured creativity into the job, and it shows.

The reimagined section will launch December 4, give or take a day. We have mock-ups we’ll share with the whole staff early next week. In the meantime, please take a moment to congratulate Cynthia and to welcome Jon and Sacha to the Globe.

All best,
Brian and Mark

Now, then. This is great news for Globe readers, although I would express the hope that expanded labor coverage will be part of this as well. But for those of us who watch the comings and goings of local media people, the most surprising development is Sacha Pfeiffer’s return to the Globe.

When Pfeiffer joined WBUR (90.9 FM) several years ago, I thought it solidified ’BUR as the city’s most interesting and creative news organization. Of course, ’BUR remains one of the crown jewels of the public radio system. But Pfeiffer’s return underscores the extent to which the Globe is expanding these days under owner John Henry and editor McGrory. (Disclosure: I’m a paid contributor to WGBH, whose news-and-talk radio station, at 89.7 FM, is a direct competitor of WBUR’s.)

Chesto’s move is less surprising because it’s a step up. But the Boston Business Journal has been set back on its heels given that executive editor George Donnelly left at the end of last month.

Why is The Washington Post holding a live event in Boston?

WP Live

Previously published at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

In a well-appointed banquet hall at the Westin Boston Waterfront, a balding, disturbingly energetic man in a red bow tie is holding forth on baby boomers, technology and aging.

“We are not young, but we are youthful,” enthuses Joseph Coughlin, director of the MIT AgeLab. A bit later: “And by the way, we never talk about the F-word when it comes to aging: fun!” Well, I suppose.

I had come to the Westin last Thursday for a program called “Booming Tech,” presented by The Washington Post as part of its Washington Post Live video series. I was less interested in the subject matter — how boomers getting along in years are enhancing their lives with digital technology — than I was in finding out what the Post was up to.

At a time when newspapers are scrambling to make money any way they can, Washington Post Live struck me as unusual and innovative. The two-hour-plus event, moderated by Washington Post Live editor Mary Jordan (with an assist from Sacha Pfeiffer of Boston public radio station WBUR), featured panels on tech and entrepreneurship, a conversation with health-care expert (and Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate) Don Berwick and a closing one-on-one between Jordan and humorist/curmudgeon P.J. O’Rourke, who was on hand to flog a new book. (Jordan: “Do you like your cell phone at least?” O’Rourke: “No.”)

So how does all this fit with the Post’s business strategy? I snagged Tim Condon, the Post’s director of new ventures and interim general manager of Washington Post Live, for some insight. (Earlier in the week, the Post had announced that former Bloomberg executive Robert Bierman would be taking over as the permanent general manager.)

Washington Post Live launched in 2011, well before Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos acquired the Post. The idea, Condon said, is to reach an “influential audience,” usually in Washington but occasionally outside the Beltway. He described the venture as both journalism and business, and said the Post hosts between 20 and 30 such events each year.

“The content that comes from these discussions are our journalism,” Condon said. And though the events are free, they are paid for by underwriters — in this case, the AARP, which was holding a national conference called Life@50+ next door at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

Washington Post Live events are free and open to the public, and other news organizations are invited to cover them as well. The compare-and-contrast that comes to mind is the Post’s ill-conceived plan in 2009 to host $25,000 off-the-record salons with the paper’s journalists in publisher Katharine Weymouth’s home (a fiasco I wrote about at the time for The Guardian).

The Booming Tech event at the Westin featured, inevitably, its own hashtag (#techboomers). About 100 people were on hand, but many of them seemed younger than I — and I’ve been fending off AARP mailers for the better part of the past decade.

The proceedings were webcast live, and video highlights have been posted. A publication of some sort will follow, Jordan told the audience, after a second Booming Tech is held in San Diego on Sept. 4. The idea of the Post holding events far outside its circulation area would seem to line up well with its recent move to give subscribers of some other newspapers digital access to the Post; both aim to extend the power of Post content outside its traditional boundaries.

In his conversation with Jordan, P.J. O’Rourke insisted that he is “not a Luddite,” explaining: “A Luddite wants to destroy tech … I just want to point out that there will be tears before bedtime for a long time.”

As with so many news organizations, technology has led to a lot of tears at The Washington Post, transforming the paper from a highly profitable enterprise into a money-loser hoping that some of Bezos’ Amazon fairy dust will somehow rub off.

Washington Post Live is certainly not the answer to the Post’s woes, or to those of the news business in general. But it’s nevertheless an interesting idea that at least partly answers the question: “Where do we go from here?”