The Art of Investigation
Nominated by Mary Weaver, Chief Subeditor
This month I have two standouts. Both are a subeditor’s dream, as they focus on the importance of fact-checking and the art of crafting a story.
1) Firstly, the film Spotlight is my contender for Best Picture of the year. This is not a flashy, shoot-em-up Hollywood film (as you can see from the trailer). It’s an engrossing human drama involving a team of investigative reporters at The Boston Globe in 2001. It’s been called by some reviewers the best film about newsroom reporting since All the President’s Men and I would have to agree.
Director Tom McCarthy has crafted a well-paced, deftly observed film focusing on four newspaper journalists who are given the brief to investigate allegations of child abuse in the Catholic church in Boston. They don’t have to produce a story tomorrow. In fact, they are given months to research leads and search for the bigger story; a story that will bring down a whole system, not an individual. Watching the investigation unfold is fascinating, and a reminder of how good journalism often needs one crucial ingredient: time.
2) My second contribution for the month is The Washington Post’s Fact Checker column.
As the US presidential race heats up, there are so many crazy assertions being made on the campaign trail by all candidates (particularly Ted Cruz). So many, in fact, that The Washington Post is pulling statements and stories apart to verify if they are true or false. They even have a graded rating system of Pinocchio noses. The more noses, the bigger the lie. It’s very amusing, but also quite shocking.
Why It Works
Both my selections this month focus on the importance of committing resources to investigation. It’s too easy to cite opinion as fact, or to circulate untruths or misinterpreted statistics or findings. Best rule of thumb: sources are important — check, check and check again.
OPUS by Satoshi Kon
Nominated by Will Chin, Senior Writer
OPUS is about Chikara Nagai, a manga artist who is trying to meet the deadlines and finish his serialised manga series, Resonance. He wants the story to end with Lin, a character from the story, sacrificing himself to defeat the villain of the story.
This does not sit well with Lin and, right before Nagai finishes the art on the final page, Lin literally crawls out from the manga and drags the writer into the comic book world, forcing him to change the ending of the series. If you have seen the music video of A-Ha’s “Take On Me”, then you know how the story begins.
Why It Works
What I love about this manga is the way Kon describes the relationship between the writer and the characters he creates. Do the characters have their own free will? As the creator, does that make you God? Even though you are the creator of these fictional characters, they do sometimes take upon a life of their own. This is something that not many people outside of the writing circle would understand, I think.
Having tried my hand at fiction writing, I understand how characters may sometimes steer stories in completely unexpected directions — it’s eerie, but it happens. In the manga, Kon blurs the line between the writer and his characters, and it perfectly encapsulates what it is like to be deeply invested in the work at hand, even if it is a fictional world filled with fictional characters.
Unfortunately, OPUS is an unfinished masterpiece. The magazine that Kon was writing for closed down before the story was completed. However, Dark Horse Comics later picked up the manga, translated it to English, then completed the story based on notes that Kon drafted before his untimely death in 2010. I will not spoil the ending for you guys but let me just say it resonated with me as a fan and, most importantly, a writer. A very moving piece of meta-fiction that you seldom see in the comic book world.
I Can’t Believe What He Found at the Top!
Nominated by Andy Sim, Senior Writer
It’ll spoil the fun if I wrote a short paragraph on why this GIF is so funny, so I’ll just say this instead: “Wait for it!”
Why It Works
Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the payoff** — but only after you’ve watched it. All I can say is, this rams home the power of a good headline: “I can’t believe what he found at the top!” Nine simple words (eight of them monosyllabic), and you’re hooked.
Nominated by Chua Kim Beng, Editor
The final episode of The X-Files aired in 2002 after nine edge-of-your-seat seasons. But now, after a break of more than a decade, this landmark sci-fi TV series is back. Like Leonard Betts (fanboys will know who I’m on about), you just can’t keep a good creep-fest down, not even when you cut off its head!
The first two episodes of the mini-series — alas, the new series will not be a regular season — premiered on FOX on Monday and Tuesday respectively (25 and 26 January), and they still had the magic touch. I hope it lasts the entire all-too-short season of six episodes. Come on, guys, that’s not too long to sustain, is it?
Of course, the two main characters — FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully — are back; they are the show, after all. Their old boss, FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner, is also back.
Gillian Anderson, who plays Dana Scully, has aged well, to say the least. Heck, if anything she actually looks more attractive — could she have been replaced by a sexy alien symbiote? Alas, time has not been as kind to David Duchovny (Fox Mulder). You can feel every single day of the series hiatus on his droopy eyelids. Mitch Pileggi’s bespectacled Walter Skinner is still as gruff, still as bald, but now sports a rather spiffy goatee.
Why It Works
Such TV productions could have grown into a monster-of-the-week show or descended into camp, but The X-Files stayed the course and presented their stories with utter seriousness, thus making us feel that everything that occurred on the show could happen in real life.
I think the original series sustained this by having two components:
- Having stand-alone monster episodes
- Weaving in mythology / background stories that extend throughout individual seasons and across seasons
These episodes that I saw this week reflected these components. Episode one concerned Fox Mulder’s favourite obsession: alien abduction and the continuing government conspiracy that hides this phenomenon from the public. Episode two was a stand-alone about a doctor purportedly helping children with genetic mutations. But — spoiler alert! — all is not as it seems.
The production values were as high as ever, the chemistry between the leads still electric. Even the opening theme retained its spine-thrumming tune. It’s as if The X-Files was never off air. However, the closing theme is an updated version that I can safely tell you all purists will hate.
Can’t wait to catch the remaining episodes!
** The GIF loops endlessly: there is no ‘top’. But you figured that out, right?