At Poynter.org Martin Baron, editor of the Boston Globe, talks about the journalistic process behind breaking the story of sexual abuse by priests. He says he "lit the match" starting the investigation on his first day on the job, nearly ten years ago:
Baron was determined to avoid “he said, she said” accounts. He saw that unsealing court documents would be the key to opening the fuller story about what Father John Geoghan, the subject of scores of lawsuits, along with other priests and the church itself, had done to victims over the years.
When a Globe lawyer declared the chances of getting those documents unsealed to be 50-50, Baron declared those to be good odds. He persuaded then-publisher Richard Gilman. (Baron believes in “a no-surprise rule: Don’t surprise the publisher.”) He also determined that the paper’s success was more likely because the church was handicapped by “inept legal counsel.” And he calculated that the paper would benefit from the assignment of state Judge Constance Sweeney — a Catholic woman from Springfield, not Boston — to rule on the sealed documents.
Baron also tried to set a restrained tone for the Globe’s stories. “I wanted to be careful with the language, avoiding words like ‘explosive,’ ‘stunning,’ ‘shocking’,” he said. The words applied to priests raping children, of course, but “adjectives like that are the kinds of things people seize on,” Baron told the students. “You don’t need to do that, because the story speaks for itself.” Instead, he imposed an “almost dispassionate” standard. (On the day the Globe’s public-service Pulitzer was announced in 2003, then-Spotlight team leader Walter Robinson had joked about Baron to his fellow staffers that “somewhere within sight of this newsroom there has to be a closet full of adjectives he excised from these stories.”)
Read the rest here.