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As a rule, a text from your boss at 11:30 on a Friday night does not portend good news. But the message Sinclair’s CEO, David Smith, sent to his news chief Scott Livingston four years ago became the seed of a project that is still going strong — and represents an extraordinary and successful commitment to single-topic investigative reporting.
Smith (now Sinclair’s executive chairman) had just seen the movie Spotlight, about the Boston Globe investigative team that exposed years of sexual abuse and cover-up by Catholic priests and their leaders. “He left the movie theater,” says investigative reporter Chris Papst. “He called our senior vice president of news. And he said, ‘Who’s our Spotlight team?’ And Scott said ‘We don’t have one.’ ‘Well, we need one.’ So that’s us. That’s how it got started.” Life imitating art imitating life.
Livingston caught the first matinee the next morning — “It was well worth my time” — and then pulled his colleague Bill Anderson and a team together that Monday to brainstorm. “With four thousand people in news, why aren’t we doing this kind of journalism?” Livingston asked. “We need to figure out how we can have this kind of impact.”
The result: “Project Baltimore” — a plan for Sinclair’s Baltimore flagship WBFF-TV (branded as Fox45) to establish a team focusing only on education, a perennial problem in the city’s well-funded but badly underperforming public schools.