One of the things that Walter V. “Robby” Robinson liked best about the movie “Spotlight,” in which he’s portrayed by Michael Keaton, is that it shows how much of journalism is about trial and error.

“I think one of the reasons the film has this sense of authenticity about it, certainly to journalists, is because it really does reflect how things happen in the news business,” said Robinson, 71, editor-at-large for The Boston Globe. “It shows how we all run around kind of clueless about the stories we’re pursuing, and then we stumble on things every now and then.”

“Spotlight” tells the story of how an investigation by the Globe’s Spotlight team, headed by Robinson, exposed widespread sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. The investigation won a 2003 Pulitzer Prize, and the film won the Oscar for best picture in 2016.

Robinson will be in Portland on Friday to take part in a panel discussion on the topic “Is the Press Being Fair to President Trump?” It’s organized by the Camden Conference, a midcoast Maine-based organization that puts on events to foster discourse on world issues.

Robinson grew up in Melrose, Massachusetts, near Boston, reading and delivering daily newspapers. He served as an intelligence officer in the Army during the Vietnam War, and as a reporter, he covered the White House in the 1980s and the Middle East in the 1990s. He now lives in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and teaches journalism at Northeastern University in Boston.

Q: Did the writers and actors from “Spotlight” spend much time with you before making the movie?


A: All six of us from the Globe who are portrayed in film, we were interviewed endlessly by (writer) Josh Singer and (director) Tom McCarthy. They shared the script with us at various points and asked for suggestions, which we were happy to give them. So we were pretty involved, and some of us, myself included, were on set in Toronto, where much of the film was shot, giving advice when asked.

Walter V. Robinson, a longtime reporter and editor at The Boston Globe, will be part of the panel.

Q: Did Michael Keaton, who played you, spend time with you?

A: Oh, yeah. We spent an enormous amount of time together. When I met Keaton, he had already spent two weeks watching old video of various cable and network shows I’d been on over time. He had my voice down, and then he spent a lot of time studying my mannerisms. We talked a lot about journalism and how we did it. During the filming, he would have questions like, “How would you handle this?” or “When do you take your notebook out?”

Q: What are the biggest changes that have occurred in journalism, both in how and what the media reports and what the public has come to expect, during your 40-year career?

A: The biggest change has come in the last 20 years, and that’s the winnowing down of the resources we need to do the kind of journalism we’d all like to do. The other change is a double-edged sword. The same internet that has drained away much of our (advertising) revenue has also made it possible for us to do what we do much more resourcefully, efficiently and in many ways, more accurately because we have so much more information that is readily available. Investigations that used to take three or four months now can be done in a few days simply because we can get the information.

Q: Why do you think the question of whether President Trump is being treated fairly by the media, which you’ll discuss as part of a panel in Portland, is important right now?


A: It’s an important question if only because nearly half of the American people believe that the so-called “mainstream media” are making stories up about him. There’s a fairly new poll on that, and the numbers are kind of startling. When the leader of the free world, the president of the United States, spends all of his time saying that reporters are enemies of the American people and they make everything up all the time, that’s bound to have some effect on public opinion, even if it’s not true, which it isn’t.

Q: What can news organizations do to counter the perception so many people seem to have now about the media being biased?

A: Sometimes I feel like we’re going to a gunfight with a knife. Frankly, I think the best thing we can do is to do what we do best, and that’s to do good, in-depth, verifiable journalism, which no rational person could describe as fake news. We live in a country that is extraordinarily ill-informed about major issues, and that occurs sometimes because of what people watch, or see, and sometimes because they pay little or no attention to public affairs. About two-thirds of Americans can’t even name their own member of Congress. So it’s pretty easy to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

Contact Ray Routhier at 781-6454 or:

Twitter: @RayRouthier

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