Thursday, March 27, 2014

Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman: "We Were More Scared of The Police Than The Drug Dealers."

A drug dealer who became a police informant walked into the Philadelphia Daily News office and asked for Wendy Ruderman. After he started explaining to her his plight - that drug dealers wanted him dead, and cops might also - Wendy grabbed fellow reporter Barbara Laker.

They then listened to the dealer/informant explain the previous seven years of his life, which revealed a world of police corruption that took place largely in a destitute area of the city.

For more than a year, Wendy and Barbara followed up on the information, digging through public records and interviewing countless numbers of people - including drug dealers and prostitutes. They discovered that police had allegedly fabricated evidence, robbed neighborhood grocery stores and sexually assaulted women. Under the series label "Tainted Justice," they did numerous stories over 14 months, detailing the unsavory actions of the people expected to keep the public safe.

"The first phase of the series was not popular at all," Barbara said.

The police were in an uproar and the Fraternal Order of Police held a press conference denouncing the series. Off-duty cops appeared near the Daily News office making threats. A lawyer representing one specific officer threatened to sue both of the reporters individually, as well as the newspaper.

"That made me mad," Wendy said. "I have a little bit of a temper, like a chihuahua."

"We were more scared of the police than the drug dealers," Barbara continued.

The series of stories won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. Wendy and Barbara took their experiences and turned them into a brand new book, "Busted: A Tale of Corruption and Betrayal In The City of Brotherly Love."

Here are a few things they said in class that stood out to me:

- When Barbara walked around Kensington interviewing people, the dealers assumed she was there to buy drugs. "I'm too geeky," Wendy said. "Nobody tried to sell me drugs."
- Barbara was slap-punched by a woman while she was reporting the story. Despite the melee, she was able to crawl on the ground and retrieve her notebook full of quotes and information.
- As a reporter, your reputation is all you have. You need a good reputation to earn people's trust. 
- Once they learned what Wendy and Barbara were doing, the drug dealers started looking after Wendy and Barbara.
- Shortly after they broke the story, the Inquirer tried to catch on to the story as well. They assigned five reporters to dig through information.

- In the book, they present themselves in a very revealing fashion. "We decided to put ourselves in there, including the foibles and failures," Barbara said. 
- There are anecdotes about their love lives, friends, co-workers and children.
- "I really am a train wreck of a parent," Wendy added with a laugh. During the gathering process for the story, she said her then-husband did most of the parenting.

- "I don't like to do stories about politics or famous people or rich people," Barbara said. Instead, she prefers stories where people with no voice have been wronged by people in power. Wendy agreed, saying, "We can use our words to affect change."

- Wendy's name first appeared in a newspaper after she was busted for underage drinking.

- "We don't know how to make money," Wendy said of the newspaper business. "People find stuff on Google, Twitter and Facebook ... but that news is being generated by journalists."
- "It's a great time for you guys," Barbara told the class, explaining that news organizations like young people whom they can hire at lower salaries, who will work very hard.
- Get an internship and start getting experience and making connections.

What stood out for you?


Meredith Hebert said...

One thing that stood out to me was when Barbara was assaulted by one of the drug dealers. And I'm wondering why she didn't press charges... Was it because it might compromise her story? Because it's "part of the job"? Or even due to the shaky relationship with the police at the time?
Regardless, it really shows her dedication as a journalist and an insight on the nitty gritty that you don't normally see or hear of.

Rosella Eleanor LaFevre said...

I don't think the thought ever crossed her mind to press charges against the woman. Wendy and Barbara are both seasoned reporters; that incident was totally understandable when you look at the slapper's background. She felt threatened, cornered, so she struck out at Barbara.

Taylor Calta said...

I've always wanted to cover pop culture, celebrities and what is going on in the media but Wendy and Barbara changed my perspective on what I would like to cover as a journalist. I never thought how empowering it would feel to be able to get the information out there about people who have no voice or no way of getting that information out to the public. They are doing a great thing by giving the underdogs a chance to tell their story, and that really inspired me.

Anonymous said...

What stood out the most for me was their courage. It's not easy being an investigative journalist, let alone an investigative journalist in the hood going "against" the police. I get paranoid walking around in a big group at night. I give them a lot of props for being able to do what they do individually in bad neighborhoods. Their passion took them far and is truly inspirational.

- Lizz Vo

Breanna Keohane said...

Wendy and Barbara visited a week ago, and I'm still thinking about everything they talked about. It was surprising information to me. It made me question our police force around Philadelphia, especially with the recent crimes (and scares) on Temple campus. It also makes me wonder about the police forces around other cities and small towns. Is it just Philadelphia that is so corrupt?! The fact that many people are ignorant of these acts, and yet we're supposed to trust our police force, is a scary thing.

I think both reporters did a great presentation. They were very personable, which made it very clear how they were able to get the information for their book. The way they were true to getting correct and interesting information out is what gives me faith in the future of the journalism field.