What does it take to conduct a five-month, data-heavy news investigation and win a Pulitzer? And how does it feel to watch your work portrayed by some of the leading stars in Hollywood?

ONA15 attendees will find out when members of the award-winning Boston Globe team that dug into abuses by Catholic Church clergy reunite on Saturday, Sept. 26, to sit down in a keynote conversation with Josh Singer, screenwriter of “Spotlight,” the upcoming movie chronicling their series.

During the keynote, as Josh plays clips from the film, Walter V. Robinson, the Globe’s Editor at Large (played by Michael Keaton), Sacha Pfeiffer, Globe columnist and reporter covering nonprofits, philanthropy and wealth (Rachel McAdams), and Michael Rezendes, a senior investigative reporter for the Globe’s Spotlight Team (Mark Ruffalo), will discuss their work, what the series might look like in the digital age and the difference between reel- and real-life newsrooms.

A lot has changed since January 2002, when the original team of eight reporters started looking into sexual abuses in the Boston Archidiocese. They were using the basic tools of the trade: the phone, shoe leather and “data mining” — which at that time meant manually reviewing public databases, reports and publications, then matching up names, dates and information.

The herculean efforts uncovered decades of secrecy and lies and inspired new safeguards. A 2010 story from The Guardian summed it up:

“As a result of their five exhaustive months of database-mining, interviewing and cross-referencing, the eight Globe reporters on the case had established that the Boston archdiocese had, over the previous decade, privately settled sexual abuse claims made by Catholic families against a staggering 70 of its priests.”

“… Within two years of the first of the Globe’s 800 articles on the scandal appearing in January 2002 … Cardinal Law had resigned, 150 priests in Boston stood accused of sexual abuse, more than 500 victims had filed abuse claims, and church-goers’ donations to the archdiocese had slumped by 50 percent.”

And, as the story notes, during that same time “across America as a whole, more than 450 priests and four bishops resigned, and several states, including Massachusetts, introduced new laws obliging clergy to report any knowledge of child sex abuse to the civil authorities.”

With the renaissance of investigative reporting by digital news outlets, we’re looking forward to hearing from the team that performed the ultimate public service — helping bring horrific abuses to light.

mcdonnell_jane_120Jane McDonnell is Executive Director of ONA, overseeing and managing the day-to-day operations of the world’s largest membership organization of digital journalists, and working closely with its Board of Directors. Her purview includes membership, partnerships, global community outreach, budgeting and revenue generation, fundraising and development, the Online Journalism Awards, and providing vision for ONA’s state-of-the-art annual conference.