McDaniel alum wins prestigious Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting

April 19, 2010

Wendy Ruderman ’91 held aloft a red, white and black Acex children’s sneaker, size 3 ½, filled it with champagne and sipped a toast to herself as cheering colleagues in the newsroom of the Philadelphia Daily News applauded the news that she had just won a Pulitzer Prize, one of journalism’s most prestigious awards.

Below you can check out video of the moment Ruderman found out she had won the Pulitzer:

In an age of mind-blowing technological advances and information-rich databases, Ruderman says all she really needed was a pair of tennis shoes – and sheer determination to right a wrong – to help bring down a band of rogue narcotics officers who had been terrorizing a community for personal gain.

“That was all I needed,” Ruderman marveled just days after winning the Pulitzer, still wearing the sneakers that were beginning to feel less sticky with wear.

Ruderman and fellow Daily News reporter Barbara Laker recently were awarded a Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting for a year-long project, “Tainted Justice,” that exposed power-hungry police officers “who had lost their mission and crossed the line,” Ruderman explained.

Their work – which involved combing through thousands of the Narcotics Field Unit’s suspicious search warrants and arrest records – resulted in an FBI proble, led to the suspension of four officers and forced the review of hundreds of criminal cases that were compromised by the scandal, according to news reports.

In her sneakers, Ruderman spent months walking the streets of dangerous neighborhoods in Philadelphia well into the night hours, interviewing innocent residents and drug dealers alike who told stories of horrific encounters with narcotics officers who stole money from shop owners and lied about evidence to secure search warrants against suspected drug dealers.

“We went out into the community, to find people who had been disenfranchised and were afraid of the government and unable to speak about it,” said Ruderman, who has worked as a reporter at the Daily News for three years.

Many a night, after her regular work hours, Ruderman would head out to find more people to interview while her husband, Karl Moser, stayed home with their two sons, Brody, 6, and Sawyer, 4.

“People say we gave voice to the voiceless,” Ruderman continued. “We just listened, and we cared.”

Also awarded a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting was Sheri Fink of ProPublica, in collaboration with the New York Times, for a piece that examined the harrowing experiences of doctors at one hospital, cut off in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the life-and-death decisions they were forced to make, the Pulitzer Prize Web site reported April 12.

Ruderman’s journalistic success comes as no surprise to those who knew her on the Hill, where she made quite the splash as a reporter and writer for the campus newspaper and Contrast, the College’s literary magazine.

“As adviser to the Trumpeters and Alpha Nu Omega, both of which Wendy was a member, I saw Wendy at her finest,” said Susan Milstein, professor of Business Administration. “She had more zip and fun in her than anyone I can remember working with. Yes, I, too was not surprised that Wendy achieved the Pulitzer.”

At Commencement, where she delivered remarks on behalf of the Class of 1991, Ruderman was awarded the Philip and Azalea Myers Award for Creativity in English. During her senior year, the Communication major wrote “Playthings,” which was produced by the College’s Theatre Department.

Ruderman also was active in several College organizations, including the Jewish Student Union, Alpha Nu Omega, the Trumpeters, the Communications Club, the Mountain Club, Alpha Psi Omega, and Omicron Delta Kappa. She also was listed in Who’s Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities.

Raised in Cherry Hill, N.J., Ruderman earned her B.A. in Communication from Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College. She holds a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Of her days on the Hill, Ruderman recalled many fond memories – even some that resulted from a bit of mischief. Most importantly, she said, the College provided a nurturing environment that helped prepare her to head out into the world with greater confidence.

Ruderman said she is in awe of the “amazing accomplishments” that others in the Class of 1991 have achieved. As an example, she cited Frank Kratovil, who was elected to the U.S. Congress in November 2008.

“McDaniel builds that kind of character in people.”

Read more about the “Tainted Justice” series here.