Regular readers know I've blogged here a number of times about the investigative reporting of the Daily News' Wendy Ruderman (that's her, towering over the newsroom, as she always does metaphorically...if never vertically) and Barbara Laker (far right..in the picture, I mean). Their relentless pursuit of crooked cops in the City of Brotherly Love, at times in the face of withering criticism from the FOP and their politically powerful allies, was the most courageous work of reporting I've seen in three decades of journalism, and it made Philadelphia a better place.
It also won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting -- one of those rare times when great work actually gets the recognition it deserves. But it goes deeper than that. The truth is that 400 North Broad Street was reeling when Wendy Ruderman came here in 2007; in fact, she was one of a number of job cuts of the Inquirer, where she'd been working in South Jersey, and only came to the Dailly News in a last minute deal because we were so short of staff we could barely publish a paper. Talk about a twist of fate! From Day One, Wendy's infectious enthusiasm for the art of journalism reminded a beaten-down newsroom what a dedicated guerrilla band of a just a few relentless reporters and editors can accomplish -- if they try. And when she and journalistic soulmate (inside joke) Barbara Laker won that Pulitzer, the outside world finally saw it, too. All this happened when the building at 400 North Broad was buffeted by relentless waves of bankrupcy, layoffs and hedge-fund idiocy. I honestly believe that if Wendy had not come here and teamed up with Barbara, the Daily News would no longer exist.
And that is a hell of a thing.
How'd she do it? If you're a baseball fan, you probably salivate over your team signing the proverbial "five-tool player" who can hit for average, catch, throw and run the bases. In journalism, most reporters are really great at something like writing or interviewing just OK at something else. I don't know how many tools you need to be a Hall of Fame journalist but Wendy does all of them -- she's a great writer who can sift through a massive stack of documents and then pry information out of actual human beings -- especially that. Wendy's the kind of person who comes by your desk to borrow a pen and you end up telling her your life story, whether you wanted to or not. That's a pretty useful skill for a reporter to have.
So you can imagine the reaction in a Daily News newsroom that is reeling yet again -- this time over the news that Wendy is leaving to become the police bureau chief for the New York Times. In this day and age, every reporter is technically irreplacable -- management won't spend the money to replace them! -- but Wendy is truly irreplacable. I and my colleagues try to focus on the bright side. For one thing, at my age it's nice to be able to effusively praise someone on the blog -- and they're not dead. Instead, she'll be only 90 miles away, in the well-deserved job of a lifetime. Five years from now, there will be more crooked NYC cops off the job or behind bars than ever before, and that is a wonderful thing to ponder. New York City has no idea what's going to hit them. But to be honest, all this stuff that I just wrote about Wendy's amazing journalism isn't the first thing we thought about when we heard that she was leaving -- it was only that we were losing the daily proximity of a great friend.
As usual, I have a lot of thoughts about the future of the Daily News and the future of the kind of journalism that Wendy and Barbara have done -- but for once, on Wendy's last day here, I'll keep my mouth/keyboard shut. For a couple of days, anyway. I will say this. So much is changing in our newsroom -- new owners, a new terror-inducing content management system, and a move to a new office in just a few weeks. All that stuff we can handle. Coming to work Sunday night and looking up -- OK, actually, looking down -- and not seeing Wendy toiling away on her next big blockbuster scoop...that is going to be very hard to take.