I have this memory from my days at the Philadelphia Daily News: a conference room at one end of the newsroom, a place where people in suits usually met, was taken over for a week by a reporter who needed a space to sort stacks of reports, transcripts and other documents for a story she’d spent months on.
The conference room had glass walls, and every so often, I’d look over and see this short, dynamo of a woman with a pixie haircut bobbing and bouncing around the room, poring over a document, then scurrying to her laptop, then back to the stacks on the floor. Her name was Wendy Ruderman.
Barbara Laker I’d known longer. She’d spent years at the paper, churning out deeply-reported and beautifully-written stories, all nourished by her tireless work ethic and gift for getting people to talk to her. She also spent a couple of long years as a deputy city editor schooling young reporters and making their copy shine, before she got back to her real love of reporting and writing.
Looking back on it, it wasn’t hard to see that when Laker and Ruderman became a team, great things would happen.
Now in a book
Ruderman and Laker won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting, exposing jaw-dropping stories of police misconduct at a time when the paper was staggering from one financial crisis to another.
They’ve now written a book called Busted: A Tale of Corruption and Betrayal in the City of Brotherly Love, and you should read it even if you read their “Tainted Justice” series and think you know the story.
Busted takes you to the streets of Philadelphia, where the cops and criminals are vivid and real, and in this story, change roles often.
The book also takes you on a journey of investigative reporting, and gives you a whole new appreciation for what these two dogged journalists accomplished.
Part of it was listening to people who don’t get listened to enough. But much of it involved a relentless search through obscure records and mean streets, staying on the story until they nailed it.
Often good investigative reporters are led through a story by an insider who can steer them to the key evidence. In so much of this remarkable work, Laker and Ruderman went on a tireless search for victims they knew had to be out there, and got them on the record.
The terribly disturbing part of the story is that cops exposed in the series as having looted corner stores and molested women are still on the payroll. Many of the bodega owners whose livelihoods were ruined have never even been interviewed by authorities. It’s a disgrace.
The other thing to be said about Ruderman and Laker is that while they’re tough, ruthlessly honest reporters, they’re two of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. And they’re in fine company at the Daily News, where I could spend a long time naming journalists I admire.
But get the book. Once you start it, you won’t want to put it down.