Publish or Pause?

The Spotlight Team was not in the habit of reporting news as it came in. Rather, it waited until it had thoroughly reported a topic before publishing an in-depth piece or series. Particularly in this case, with such a controversial subject, it seemed to make sense to follow its usual practice and wait until it was ready to publish a comprehensive story. The plan in this case was to run a long, airtight story on Geoghan as a setup to his trial, which was set to start in January. The Globe could be confident that its competitors were well behind on this story—if they had even entered the race. In fact, were the Globe to publish an article immediately based on these three documents, it would likely pull competitors onto the story. Rezendes, moreover, doubted that Garabedian had told any other reporter about the documents; he alone had put in the time to win Garabedian’s trust.

The problem, however, was that another reporter could find the documents. Whenever new documents were filed, there was a notation on the docket. Because these documents were technically not new, Rezendes had asked his lawyer to argue that there need not be a notation. But as it turned out, the courthouse clerk had followed standard procedure. A diligent court reporter, one who routinely checked docket files for new entries, might find the documents.

This scenario seemed plausible to Rezendes. The idea of holding the story made him nervous. The Globe could run this story and still do the more comprehensive piece when it was ready. If they ran a story immediately, it would be a solid one; it would be based on documents that would go a long way toward offsetting the church’s predictable pushback.

On the other hand, the team was not ready to run, as Rezendes says, “the most authoritative piece.” They still had leads to follow, facts to check. Plus they might win the lawsuit that would, with the infusion of documents, greatly expand the scope of the story. But what if a rival journalist stumbled across their largest single discovery? Rezendes describes the choice:

There was some thought that we should just go [with the story] right away. And there was another thought that no, we should hold it and do the best possible, do what we do, which is get our arms completely around a subject, and come out with the most authoritative piece that we could as soon as we could, but to not rush it for competitive reasons.

The team would have to make a decision.