Pulitzer Prize winning reporters, in a presentation to Temple University journalism students said that getting an amazing story can be dangerous.
Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman, two reporters from The Philadelphia Daily News received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for their work in the competitive category of investigative reporting. On Monday, April 9 they gave a presentation to a class of Temple University journalism students about their award winning series “Tainted Justice.”
A native of England Barbara Laker attended the University of Missouri Journalism School. She held positions at papers like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Dallas Times-Herald. She eventually ended up with a general assignment job at the Inquirer then her investigative position at the Daily News.
Wendy Ruderman got her start at the small town paper The Williamstown Plain Dealer. She moved to positions in broadcast like WHYY-TV, PBS, and NPR. Her reporting about racial profiling at The Trenton Times helped earn her a position as a staff writer at the Inquirer then her movement to the Daily News in 2007.
Their presentation began with a small anecdote about Laker going out to gather information at a house in Philadelphia’s Kensington Neighborhood. She knocked on the door of her subject Tiffany’s house to Tiffany’s mother, who was willing to answer a few questions. Barbara Laker said that the minute Tiffany saw her in the home Tiffany began to slap her and chase her down the street. Laker ran away, but not before grabbing her notebook with her notes from the interview with Tiffany’s mother.
Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman won the Pulitzer Prize for their work on a 10 month series called “Tainted Justice.” Their work uncovered several misdeeds by the Philadelphia Police including sexual assault, disabling surveillance equipment during police raids, and filing fraudulent warrants.
While uncovering the story Laker and Ruderman said they ran into a several roadblocks. In one case they went to the Philadelphia court house on Christmas Eve in order to get into a room with warrants filed by the police.
One of the largest opponents they said they had to fight while uncovering the story was actually the Philadelphia Police Department. In one instance Laker and Ruderman went to a Police press conference that was organized to address the story that they had been uncovering. The conference ended up with the police going on the offensive against Laker and Ruderman themselves.
In many cases Ruderman and Laker said they often felt like they were in real danger. They believed that people were purposely calling and hanging up in order to scare them. Ruderman said that one time they were prepared to walk across Broad Street to their cars late at night, but waited because there was a car that had been waiting outside with a Fraternal Order of Police sticker, signifying off duty officers. She also said at one time her address was posted online with what she believed was the intent to scare or hurt, her family or herself.
By uncovering this story there was a high possibility that criminals and accused drug dealers would be let out of jail due to false warrants. When asked about the ethical implications of their discoveries Laker said, “We never intended to be champions of these big time drug dealers.”
Barbara Laker did not believe that what the police were doing to catch these criminals was right. “You can’t break the law to enforce it.” She said. Laker said she believed that is why she and Ruderman got so much “animosity” from the police.
Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker were telling these stories with smiles on their faces and often stopping to laugh and moments that in the past were terrifying.
During the presentation Laker told an anecdote about a moment where she was knocking on doors in North Philadelphia. A man who she believed to be a drug dealer came up to her and said, “You know I own this block?” She responded by saying, “That means you got my back.”
Often Ruderman and Laker were confronted with situations that did not present the most safe conditions for reporting, often even going door to door in what are considered the more dangerous neighborhoods of Philadelphia. Ruderman said that one time while in Kensington they feared being hit by a stray bullet when shots broke out nearly a block or two away.
A student in the class asked the two ladies what made them want to keep reporting after all the dangerous situations that they were constantly confronted with. Wendy Ruderman said with a nodding agreement form Laker, “We believed in the story so much to go on.”