We don’t want to let the day pass without recommending that you take a look at Will Bunch’s Daily News cover story about the 1964 Philadelphia riots and how they changed the city. For those of us who are relative newcomers, it’s a useful piece of history to understand how the city we live in today became what it is.
Wendy Ruderman, one-half of the Daily News‘ Pulitzer-winning duo whose work has come under scrutiny by the Philadelphia Inquirer, took to Facebook today to rebut allegations she and partner Barbara Laker behaved unethically during the reporting of the “Tainted Justice” series on police corruption.
“I’ve been advised over and over again NOT to speak out or go on Facebook or Twitter,” she wrote. “But to sit quiet, at least for me, feels cowardice and wrong.”
Something doesn’t add up.
The Inquirer on Friday did something pretty unusual: It printed a takedown of the reporting behind the Daily News’ Pulitzer-winning “Tainted Justice” series of reports about police corruption in 2009. The underlying question in the report: Why had Thomas Tolstoy — accused of sexually assaulting women on the job, as well as sundry other bits of corruption — been able to stay free and even keep his police job in the years since?
The Inky’s answer? Ethically questionable behavior on the part of the Daily News reporters, Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker, may have compromised the case. Specifically, the two are alleged to have offered financial assistance to “Naomi,” a key witness who said Tolstoy jammed his fingers into her vagina during a 2008 drug raid. Naomi’s real identity has never been revealed publicly.
Commissioner Charles Ramsey, at least, is making the case that the reporters’ behavior was so egregious that Tolstoy — a bad cop by the commissioner’s estimation — won’t get the punishment he might deserve. “It’s not a question of whether misconduct occurred. I think we have an investigation that does demonstrate that,” Ramsey told KYW Newsradio, “but this could very well be exploited by defense counsel when it comes to creating some doubt in the mind of an arbitrator.”
Here are three reasons — drawn only from the public reporting on this issue — that the “bad reporting kept a bad cop on the streets” story doesn’t quite make sense.
It would appear that an Inquirer story killed last month by publisher Gerry Lenfest is back from the dead.
The Inquirer today has a lengthy front-page story examining why Thomas Tolstoy, a Philadelphia Police officer accused of sexually assaulting women in the Daily News’ Pulitzer-winning “Tainted Justice” series in 2009, is still on the force.
The Inky’s answer? A main witness gave federal officials inconsistent accounts of her encounter with Tolstoy. And her already shaky credibility was hurt when she told federal officials that Daily News reporters Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker had helped with bills and bought her gifts.
If true, investigators said, Ruderman and Laker could be seen as “enticing” the victim’s story, harming her credibility in court. And journalistic ethics generally prohibit giving gifts to sources. Ruderman said she did buy a bag of groceries for the woman, but that was the extent of the help.
Our pal Randy LoBasso has an interesting cover story this week at Philadelphia Weekly, suggesting that when the Philadelphia Phillies play poorly — as they are this season — there are economic ramifications:
For many of Citizens Bank Park’s workers, it’s simple trickle-down economics: pay rises and falls with the team’s fortune. These workers, who vend beer section-by-section, aisle-by-aisle, are paid based on tips and commission. Poor teams mean fewer fans. Fewer fans means less product moved. Less product means less pay—and as the team gets worse, for lots of these workers, their wallets get emptier.
Makes sense. And you know who else seems to suffer when the Phillies play poorly? The city’s newspapers.
Read more »
I don’t think Stu Bykofsky is a bigot.
Let me rephrase: I don’t know if Stu Bykofsky is a bigot, because answering that question definitively requires knowing Stu’s heart — and nobody knows Stu’s heart (or, really, if he has one) except Stu.
Helen Gym did a thorough takedown last week of the longtime Daily News columnist’s rhetorical proclivities, but I suspect Bykofsky isn’t a bigot as the term is normally understood. Hating other groups of people requires caring, on some level, that they exist. I’m not so sure that’s the case with Stu.
He’s a provocateur. A troll, in the modern parlance. A naughty child in the body of a cranky old man. A Philly.com commenter given pro status. Other people don’t seem to be “other people” in Stu’s columns so much as they are targets for his gleeful, unending bomb-throwing. (Full disclosure: He’s aimed those bombs at me on at least one occasion.)
The question, then, is this: Is he a worthy newspaper columnist?
It may be that this morning’s news is the first you’re hearing of the events in Ferguson, Mo. — how a young unarmed black man was shot by police, how residents protested, and how a militarized police force evidently overreacted — and if it is, well, prepare to get angry.
What’s interesting, from a Philly perspective, is how those events forced changes to the cover of today’s Philadelphia Daily News. Twice. And how that happened says a lot about how media works in 2014.
Oh, what an ugly difference a dozen years can make.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the newspaper business was a happy one, fed by fat profit margins and a lack of competition in most cities. Philadelphia was no different: Yes, it had two major daily papers, but they shared an owner, reached different audiences — and maximized revenue.
What’s happened since then has been brutal. Everybody knows about the bankruptcy, revolving door ownership, and multiple rounds of layoffs that the Inquirer and Daily News — along with their digital cousin, Philly.com — have experienced in recent years. But a new document obtained by Philadelphia magazine shows just how deep the pain went.
The document is called “Interstate General Media: EBITDA Trend – 2000-2012.” (EBITDA stands for “earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization” and is one way to measure a company’s profitability.) And it reveals how the finances of Philadelphia’s leading newspapers imploded during that time — a period covering four owners: Knight Ridder, McClatchy, Brian Tierney, and finally the hedge fund owners who brought the newspapers out of bankruptcy. The last two years — that include two different sets of local ownership, one headed by George Norcross, the more recent one by Gerry Lenfest — are not included.
The document reveals:
— Philly Inquirer (@PhillyInquirer) August 7, 2014
The hard and high paywall is dead. Long live the somewhat lowered paywall.
More than a year after the Inquirer and Daily News unveiled their new websites — hidden behind “hard” paywalls that required a paid subscription (or, more often, an access code) to read — the paywalls are softening a bit. Starting today, readers who go to Inquirer.com via links on Facebook or Twitter will get to read the story for free.