Rowan University senior adjunct professor David C. Hackney gave us the big thumbs-up in his review on the Amazon site. Thanks a million, David — and we invite anyone else who’s read the book and wants to weigh in with a reader review on Amazon to do so.
Investigative Journalism At Its Best, March 13, 2014
By David C. Hackney
If you have ever wondered why newspaper reporters continue to work for low pay, under terrible conditions, and in an industry that is reportedly on hospice, then this excellent book will tell you. Especially one line on page 72. “Barbara (Laker) began to feel the endorphins of a reporter’s high, a blend of panic attack, sugar rush, too much caffeine, and great sex.”
Ms. Laker and her “slime sista” colleague, Wendy Ruderman, demonstrate while we need newspapers willing to commit to investigative reporting. This fast paced, easy to read book shows that some times the only thing protecting the public from corrupt officials is reporters willing to take risks, absorb physical and mental abuse, and make sacrifices that can damage their personal lives.
Ms. Laker and Ms. Ruderman are reporters for the Philadelphia Daily News, a feisty tabloid proud to be known as The People Paper. The Daily News, and its sister broadsheet,The Philadelphia Inquirer, are struggling financially like all other big city papers. As the two work on their “Tainted Justice” series of stories, rumors abound that the papers will be sold or the Daily News shuttered or some other disaster awaits just after the next edition. They must put aside this daily dose of despair and focus on what they know how to do; follow a story wherever it takes them. And this is quite a story indeed.
It is filled with real life characters right out of Damon Runyon. There is Benny Martinez, the whining, drug-addicted police informant who garners little sympathy; Jeff Cujdik, a cop willing to bend and break the rules to raise his arrest scores; Lady Gonzalez and Dagma Rodriquez, two brave women willing to put it on the line to stop a serial sexual molester with a badge, Tom Tolstoy; and Brian Tierney, CEO of the Inquirer and Daily News, who strives to maintain local ownership of the papers. (Full disclosure, Tierney is a long-time personal friend.)
There are villians on both sides of the law in this story. Low-life drug dealers selling their merchandise near school yards and cops willing to steal from innocent shop keepers who are trying to eke out a living in some the city’s worst neighborhoods.
The villains here will most likely infuriate readers, but there are heroes who will inspire.
There is Gar Joseph, who reminds me of the first city editor I had at a newspaper now long gone. There is Michael Day, Daily News editor, who is willing to commit the resources to Laker and Ruderman’s work. There is “Ray,” a great Philadelphia cop who despises what bad cops can do to the reputations of all police officers. There is Laker’s protective neighbor Dutch, who knows the dangers she faces. And there is “Seven,” Laker’s dog who has to endure late feedings as she works countless hours.
The story is even more interesting as Laker and Ruderman write about the damage that journalism can do to their personal lives. Laker is recovering from the end of her 25-year-old marriage and Ruderman’s husband and two sons question her priorities. (In an afterward, Ruderman notes that her marriage did end, in no small way because of her commitment to her career.)
Newspapers are wonderful places to work. I spent 17 of my younger years as a reporter and editor. Thomas Wolfe once wrote that to be a reporter on the trail of a great story is to feel rush to the cerebral cortex that is orgasmic.
The real hero of the story isThe Daily News and papers like it across the country. If our nation’s newspapers die we will lose an important protection many take for granted. Without the work these two women did, a few Philadelphia cops would still be putting innocent people in jail and stealing from hard-working shopkeeprs trying to get by in the rough neighborhoods of the Philadelphia Badlands. No one would know of women sexually assaulted by a cop during drug busts.
In 2010 Laker and Ruderman won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism. It was only the third time in the paper’s history that it won the highest journalistic honor. No one familiar with the challenges of journalism would deny that they deserved the award.
Today they both still work at adjoining desks at The Daily News, although Ruderman did spend a year as a police reporter for The New York Times before returning to her roots in Philadelphia. They still deal with the rumors that their paper is on the verge of joining others in the newspaper graveyard. And they are still doing what they love. Being damn good newspaper reporters.