Investigative Reporting


Dogged determination. Facts. Empathy. Fairness. These are just some of the attributes of investigative reporter Mike Rezendes of the Boston Globe Spotlight team.

Rezendes, who began reporting on the Boston Catholic clergy abuses of children and youth some sixteen years ago, has noted a change in society of late. Back when he began, when people came forward with allegations of crimes, they were seen as shady. And they were, generally, not believed. Even children were not believed by their parents. The ‘sea change?’ “Now they’re listened to. They have credibility. That was profoundly satisfying,” Rezendes said.

Asked about the attributes of an investigative reporter, he replied, ‘Be naturally empathetic, curious, a good listener.’ He also said that, along with his fellow Spotlight reporters, he “became an amateur psychologist. When you’re a reporter you pick it up as you go along.”

He laughed when asked whether Mark Ruffalo was an apt actor to play him in the film Spotlight. He reported that Ruffalo and he, besides sharing the same initials, shared similar characteristics. (And Ruffalo might have nailed Rezendes a little too accurately.)

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Hearing the wisdom of Rezendes and Susanne Craig, who I will write about tomorrow, at the homecoming and family weekend of the School for Ethics and Global Leadership in Washington DC, and the brilliant students who questioned them, totally inspired me. These young people and journalists have great integrity.

While I am a fast and good (humble) writer, I am not a dogged writer. I lose interest in stories that require lengthy research. I joke that my favorite parts of journalism are accepting the job and accepting the paycheck. It’s all the in-between stuff that I find difficult.

That’s not completely true, I do love interviewing people too. I like to cut through B.S. and get to what matters to people. My motto? Go deep fast.

Back to the seismic shifts in the betterment of society from the reporting of Rezendes and Craig — I believe that there is a sea change of honesty and empathy emerging in our national conversations. I have hope that my fellow civilians will treasure the work of the press the way I do.

Asked about how they respond when naysayers call the media ‘fake’ or deny the facts, Rezendes said, “Get the documents. Get the proof. Push for evidence.”

Regarding his own reporting on the institutional abuse of children by the Boston clergy, he said, “I wanted to be as fair as I could be…I’m a paid skeptic.”

As Noah Bopp, founder of the School for Ethics and Global Leadership, said at the outset of this panel, “Our ethos is to be empathetic.”

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From left, Reporters Susanne Craig, Mike Rezendes, interviewer Valeria Gonzalez, and School for Ethics and Global Leadership founder Noah Bopp at the homecoming weekend.

Integrity Has Grit

ImageIt’s easy to focus on the negative in this current climate. Like Elizabeth Gilbert said in yesterday’s Instagram post, “Before I start getting high off the crack pipe of outrage, I decided to do an integrity check on myself.”

Integrity. What a word. All Germanic and noble-sounding. Like a pillar, a Greek column to hold up our society.

Who has integrity? Who has grit? (The word ‘grit’ is actually found within the word integrity.) There is so much I’ve learned from educators like Angela Lee Duckworth who has proven that grit predicts success better than intelligence or talent. Creativity predicts success too.

I have worked with many colleagues who have integrity. They’ve not been perfect people. Lately, I’ve been wondering why the bond I had with my colleagues at the United Methodist Church was so strong. Was it that we had each other’s backs and we sought equity and inclusion? We did. We could never travel for work, representing only one race or age or gender. We had to be a diverse team. It was an unwritten mandate.

The most beautiful part of camping this summer with St. Paul and St. Andrew community was the final words from Pastor K. Karpen, who said, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘Jesus traveled with a ragtag group. It wasn’t the ‘best people,’ or the most winning team.'” It was tax collectors and women who washed feet and mothers and fishers of men.

Yesterday, Gilbert asked, “Do I preach love and courage and peace and inclusion, but then use my social media platforms to spew rage and fear and panic and condemnation?” Yes, for sure, I am high on anguish and muted on hope.

How can I not be? I freakin’ hate intolerance. I hate the idea that this country is penning up children who are simply seeking sanctuary. I hate white male privilege. I hate I hate I hate. I have a righteous indignation. How can I — in my desire to overthrow an unjust system — not become the thing I hate? In making the world better every day, spreading my radical love and courage and peace and inclusion, how do I not destroy myself?

On a practical level, I can push myself to show courage. To have grit and integrity — to use my passion and persevere. To forgive people who do not think like me or act like me or love as well as I do.

I have a fatal flaw of righteousness. I like to be the designated driver, the responsible one. And I look down on those who have lost their compassion, humanity, responsibility for the least of these, for women and children who have suffered and are suffering.

This dichotomy of this showing off-ing kind of humility was on display yesterday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the exhibit on Heavenly Bodies. The Catholic Church, notorious for covering up statues of nude bodies in the Vatican, inspired designers to glitter up the body-denial clothing. As if to say, ‘Yes, this nun’s frock is inelegant; yet in that black habit, there is a beauty and a style and hey, let’s throw some rhinestones on the bodice too.’

So let me dress up my humility — like fashion designers dressed up the spartan attire of holy men and women. It’s easy to hate the opposition as enemies. It’s too easy.

Like Versace’s excessive accessorizing, let’s take our self-denial to the nth degree. Let’s have integrity and courage by NOT hating. Add sparkles to the activism.

That after all is the secret to creativity. Throwing opposites together. I seek to love the intolerant. Love them into change — not hate them for their inelegant and false integrity. To be creative: take two opposites and make something new and better out of them.

Sometimes, I think, I’m going to be okay, but will this country? I  don’t know. Sadly, I’m actually not in charge of this varied and vast country.  I’m only in charge of a small piece of earth for a small piece of time. Myself. I can only take this one little mind and heart and body — and use my gifts of hope and courage and love. And while I’m at it, throw some glitter on my grit and integrity. Make integrity a pillar of society.

Integrity = Latin adjective integer, meaning whole or complete — having moral uprightness.

Grit = sand, gravel. Pluck, spirit, firmness of mind.