Wendy Ruderman Talks About Why She’s Leaving the Daily News

"Morale couldn’t get any worse," says the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

How bad are things at the Daily News? New York Times-bound Wendy Ruderman, a 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner, is urging her colleagues to jump ship.

“I hate to say it, but if people at the Daily News aren’t looking, they should be,” says Ruderman, whose swan song is Thursday. “If they’re not, it’s kind of stupid … This place is rudderless.”

Rumors of the DN’s imminent demise are nothing new. This time, however, it feels real, Ruderman, 42, says. Under new owners (again) and with circulation plummeting, everything is in flux as the DN and the Inquirer prepare to relocate to smaller headquarters downtown.

“Morale couldn’t get any worse,” says Ruderman, who joined the DN in 2007 from the Inky, where she was about to be laid off after four years. “Nobody tells us anything. We’ve been through this before, but for the first time, it feels real. It’s scary.”

Ruderman starts at the NYT on June 4th as police bureau chief. Based in One Police Plaza, she’ll help direct as well as report daily coverage of crime and cops. In addition to a substantial raise, she received a signing bonus from the Times.

For winning the 2010 Pulitzer for investigative reporting, she and colleague Barbara Laker shared a $10,000 check. From the Daily News, each got a $1,000 bonus. No raise.

“I thought we should have gotten a raise,” says Laker, 54, Ruderman’s best friend and soulmate. “It’s not like Wendy and I make a lot of money. I understand times are tight, but you do hear of other people getting raises.”

Ruderman’s and Laker’s “Tainted Justice” exposed a rogue Philadelphia Police narcotics squad, resulting in an FBI probe and the review of hundreds of criminal cases tainted by the scandal. The duo’s book, Midnight in the City of Brotherly Love, is to be published in February by Harper Collins.

Ruderman spent the last two months in the newsroom openly job-hunting, she says. “I was very vocal about it. I would discuss my wardrobe for interviews.”

Despite two tempting offers from the Washington area, she couldn’t say no to the Times. “What reporter wouldn’t work for the New York Times? I fell in love with them. When I walked into that building, I couldn’t get over it.”

When Ruderman informed her editor [Gar Joseph], she says she broke into tears of “relief, happiness and sadness.” Were there counter-offers from the DN? “God, no,” she says with a laugh. “The reaction was, ‘Can you take us with you?’”

For Ruderman, the tipping point came in February, she says. As she was leaving her gym, she got an email from a colleague alerting her that the New York Post had just broken a story that the papers were back on the block.

“I felt sick,” she recalls. “Right then and there, I thought, ‘I’m outta here.’ I couldn’t take the stress anymore. It was one thing after another. I have a family. I’m the breadwinner. If the shit hits the fan here, I’m the one responsible for figuring out how to make money.”

Ruderman and her husband, freelance web designer Karl Moser, live with their two young sons in Haddon Township. They’re house-hunting in North Jersey. She is no stranger to New York—she was born on Long Island and has a master’s in journalism from Columbia.

Ruderman’s departure will leave “a giant hole” in the DN newsroom, Laker says. “Everyone looks up to her and sees her as a leader.” At a personal level, it’s worse. Both she and Ruderman say they cry whenever the subject comes up.

“She’s practically like my wife,” says Laker, a divorced heterosexual with grown children. “I trust her with every bone in my body. She knows everything about me. We practically lived together when we were doing the book. We finish each other’s sentences.

“It’s rare to have a friend like that. I feel like I’m getting divorced.”