For example: The only Chicago-area news outlet to
scrutinize candidates for Cook County judgeships this year was Injustice
Watch, Tulsky said. Such labor-intensive reporting once was a staple of
local newspapers at election time.
Tulsky called "mundane" work a
necessity for good journalism. Sometimes, he said, fine details reveal
patterns that elude reporters on quick-hit news stories. Tulsky and his
team sift those details to find areas where the justice system might be
failing the public.
He also told of drama and even danger
reporters can face when they take on tough stories – such as an
interview, in the 1970s, with a Ku Klux Klan leader in a Mississippi
Tulsky remembered being so focused on the interview
that until his photographer nudged him, he did not notice that the two
journalists were surrounded by armed men.
He recalled how the
Klan leader launched into a racist, anti-Semitic diatribe that day,
blaming the nation's problems on African Americans – and Jews with
money. Then the Klansman said to Tulsky, who is Jewish: "We don't mean
you. You're a working Jew."
A bonus for students was Tulsky's
follow-up call during the last class before spring break. Asked for
examples of "mundane" work he'd done, he told of weeks he'd spent as a
young Inquirer reporter camped in a legal newspaper's archives to find
listings of injury lawsuits against the local transit system – and the
16 months he and a colleague at the Los Angeles Times spent reconciling
court computer printouts to produce an accurate list of homicide cases.
first effort led to a scathing series on Philadelphia's accident-prone
buses, trains and trolleys; the second, to stories exposing racial and
economic bias in how Los Angeles murders were investigated.
latter was a classic "zig:" While countless reporters were covering a
celebrity murder trial – O.J. Simpson's – Tulsky and his colleague were
unearthing painful truths about less-noticed murder cases.
Tulsky's website doesn't have the resources that major newspapers have,
he can brag that it has already made a dent. Its story of a black Kansas man framed for two killings by a corrupt white detective was reprised
in The New York Times; its voter-friendly look at Chicago judicial
candidates drew more readers than ever to Injusticewatch.org.
student Matt McKee's follow-up questions – about what Tulsky is
investigating now and why he'd been in UD's neighborhood – the
journalist said only that he'd come east to talk with several lawyers
about a possible story.
Which means another Injustice Watch "zig" may in the works.
– By Dan Biddle and his English 307 students