scorecardresearch Skip to main content
Spotlight Team's 50th Anniversary

Five decades in the Spotlight: A selected timeline of groundbreaking investigations

Key moments in the history of the Globe investigative team, starting with its creation.

From left: Globe staffers react to learning they won a Pulitzer Prize in 1972; a protester outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, in 2002; a BU student was killed in a house fire in 2013; the crowd at Fenway during a Red Sox-Yankees game in 2017; and Aaron Hernandez in his Patriots playing days.File photos

September 27, 1970Boston Globe editor in chief Thomas Winship announces the creation of a “Spotlight Team” to “provide in-depth reporting on the big stories of the day.” For its first investigation, editor Timothy Leland and reporters Gerard O’Neill and Stephen A. Kurkjian reveal corruption at a West End parking lot.

May 1, 1972 — The Spotlight Team wins its first Pulitzer Prize for a series of exposés on corruption in Somerville, including no-bid contracting for an array of government services.

March 26, 1974 — Spotlight, now led by O’Neill as editor, launches an ambitious investigation into ineffective, profit-making trade schools. Team members go undercover as students to see how schools take advantage of military veterans and minority youth.


March 9, 1976 — “City’s Property Tax: System Without Justice” reveals the arbitrary way property taxes are set in Boston, showing similar buildings taxed at wildly different levels. In response, the IRS announces a crackdown on some inequities, and Boston embarks on a revaluation of all properties.

March 20, 1977 — Spotlight reporters and photographers spend three months trailing public officials suspected of barely showing up for work. The investigation results in tighter controls on attendance and several people losing their jobs, including the mayor of Cambridge.

February 19, 1978 — Spotlight produces a major study on the radioactive result of the Cold War, focusing on the high incidence of cancer deaths among workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

June 10, 1979 — Kurkjian debuts as Spotlight editor, leading an investigation into the lobbying clout of nursing homes. He will win a total of three Pulitzers as a team member.

April 14, 1980 — The team wins its second Pulitzer Prize for a series on the MBTA, which had drastically scaled back minority hiring and contracting while becoming the most expensive transit system in the country, mile for mile.


March 24, 1985 — Spotlight reporters go undercover as students to reveal sham education programs that police officers were using to boost their pay. The series leads to reevaluation of these so-called Quinn Bill courses.

September 18, 1988 — Spotlight publishes a deep exploration of Massachusetts Senate President William Bulger, his crime boss brother, Whitey, and their vice-like grip on power in their respective worlds. The series includes the explosive revelation that the murderous gangster had a “special’' relationship with the Boston FBI office that protected him.

September 23, 1990 — “Half-Day Justice” features pictures by photographer John Tlumacki of state judges who were obviously not at work during the workday, leading to case delays and dismissals, particularly for the politically connected. Some judges went home, some played golf, all made a bad impression.

May 23, 1993 — “Beacon Hill’s Money Game” reveals the potentially corrupting influence of lobbying on Massachusetts politics, showcasing photos by Tlumacki capturing Senate President William Bulger and House Speaker Charlie Flaherty on exotic beach junkets at corporate expense.

February 10, 1996 — Spotlight exposes Boston Police detectives who shake down drug dealers for money and drugs, resulting in prison sentences for two veteran officers. The duo’s role investigating the 1993 murder of a fellow detective eventually leads to a new trial for defendant Sean K. Ellis, whose fight against his wrongful conviction is the subject of a Netflix documentary series, Trial 4.


April 7, 1997 — The team is a Pulitzer finalist for “Cruising on a Broken Down System,” which identifies 305 able-bodied people who had retired on permanent disability, allowing them to improperly collect tax-free pensions that were costing taxpayers millions.

July 19, 1998 — With “Whitey and the FBI: Crossing the Line,” the team reveals the fuller contours of the murder and mayhem resulting from the FBI’s corrupt ties to Whitey Bulger, the worst informant scandal in FBI history.

May 30, 2000 — O’Neill and Spotlight reporter Dick Lehr publish Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI, and a Devil’s Deal, building off years of reporting and new information, to tell the full history of the corrupt informant relationship between the crime boss and the FBI. The book is made into a 2015 movie.

April 29, 2001 — Walter V. Robinson is named permanent Spotlight editor, a position he fills until 2006 (he’s now a Globe editor at large). He first leads an investigation into shoddy construction and corner cutting on expensive homes. It marks an expanded direction for the team, focusing on misconduct by private companies rather than government and gangsters.

April 7, 2003 — The team wins its third Pulitzer, this one for exposing long-hidden sexual abuse by Catholic priests. The stories, which lead to global reforms, win the Pulitzer’s public service award, the top honor.

April 16, 2007 — The team is a Pulitzer finalist for “Debtors’ Hell,” which investigates hundreds of thousands of lawsuits against the working poor, elderly, and others who were in arrears on credit card bills. The series prompts reform in the Massachusetts small claims court system.


November 16, 2008 — “A healthcare system badly out of balance” uncovers a secret agreement between Partners HealthCare, the state’s biggest hospital system, and its largest insurer that increased the cost of health care. The series leads to state and federal antitrust investigations and limits on Partners’ ability to expand.

May 23, 2010 — An investigation finds rampant patronage hiring in the Massachusetts probation department, leading to immediate changes from the state’s top court.

April 20, 2015 — The Spotlight Team is a Pulitzer finalist for “Shadow Campus,” its look at dangerous college housing. Team editor Thomas Farragher will later become a Globe columnist.

October 25, 2015 — Scott Allen becomes editor of the Spotlight Team, expanded to six reporters, debuting with an investigation into surgeons who operate on two patients at once without telling them. The larger team can now carry out two major investigations at once.

February 28, 2016 — The film Spotlight, about the Globe’s investigation into sexual abuse by Catholic priests, wins the Academy Award for Best Picture of 2015. The writing team of Josh Singer and director Tom McCarthy win the Oscar for best original screenplay.

April 10, 2017 — The Spotlight Team is a Pulitzer finalist for its look at the failure of the mental health care system to protect mentally ill people and their families from violence. It finds that nearly half of fatal police shootings in Massachusetts involve people who were suffering mental illness or were clearly in emotional crises.


May 5, 2017 — Patricia Wen, a three-time Pulitzer finalist, is appointed to head the team. She is the first woman and person of color to become Spotlight editor. In announcing her promotion, Globe editor Brian McGrory calls her “an unabashed champion of underdogs.”

April 16, 2018 — The team is a Pulitzer finalist for the fifth time, this time for its deep examination of racism in Boston: “Boston. Racism. Image. Reality.” The series continues with a major, ongoing discussion about Boston’s racial climate.

October 13, 2018 — The team debuts its first podcast, Gladiator, about the murderous life and untimely death of former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez.

August 22, 2019 — O’Neill, the longest serving editor of the Spotlight Team, dies after a lengthy illness. A founding team member who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1972, O’Neill led Spotlight for more than 25 years.

November 7, 2019 — Massachusetts General Hospital agrees to pay $13 million to orthopedic surgeon Dr. Dennis Burke to settle a wrongful termination lawsuit. Burke had been fired after providing information to the Spotlight Team for an investigation of surgeons who operate on two patients at once without telling them.

November 19, 2019“Seeing Red” takes a deep look at Greater Boston’s epic traffic and decrepit mass transit system. Despite billions invested in highway projects such as the Big Dig, Boston’s roads and rails are often overwhelmed and political inaction is making it worse.

September 26, 2020 — The “Last Words” investigation reveals the profound inequities that follow us from cradle to grave. The series becomes even more urgent when, amid reporting, the COVID-19 pandemic claims thousands of lives in this region alone, disproportionately affecting the poor and people of color.

June 11, 2021The Boston Globe “Quick Strike Team,” spun off from Spotlight and led by editor Brendan McCarthy, wins an investigative reporting Pulitzer for “Blind Spot,” an exposé on how states fail to share information on dangerous drivers. Reported by Evan Allen, Matt Rocheleau, Laura Crimaldi, and Vernal Coleman, the series results in widespread reforms and likely saves lives.