As a teen, Craig R. McCoy read I.F. Stone's Weekly, a little publication acclaimed for challenging the power of government. McCoy's father, a political science professor, subscribed to Stone's muckraking newsletter to find out the truth behind the official version.
Recently, McCoy, now an investigative reporter at The Inquirer, got a call from Robert H. Giles, curator of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, informing him that he had been awarded the 2010 I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence.
"I didn't even know I'd been nominated, so it's cool," McCoy said about being the recipient of an accolade established in honor of one of his journalistic heroes.
McCoy, 58, may not be a household name, but his work has had a major impact on Philadelphia. Federal prosecutors cited The Inquirer's reporting - McCoy's reporting - in court as they pursued the criminal case that sent former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo to prison.
McCoy, who joined the newspaper in 1982, was part of an investigative team in the late 1990s that revealed that the Philadelphia Police Department routinely downgraded crimes, particularly rapes, to improve crime statistics.
The stories led to a review of downgraded reports of sex crimes, to the conviction of 33 men on sexual-assault charges, and to a revamping of the department's Special Victims Unit.
Most recently, he led a team that examined the city's court system, revealing abysmal conviction rates and a massive number of fugitives. The resulting series triggered reforms that are ongoing.
"To me, Craig's work really epitomizes the best in public-service journalism," said Inquirer editor Bill Marimow.
"He's humble, unassuming, but his words speak loudly," said managing editor Mike Leary.
McCoy is the third winner of the medal, given annually to a journalist "whose work captures the spirit, integrity, and courage" of Stone and his investigative reporting, according to the foundation, which announced McCoy's selection Thursday. The foundation has a three-person committee that chooses the winner based on recommendations from a panel of distinguished journalists, who serve only one year and remain anonymous.
McCoy's nomination for the award noted that he "is undaunted by a complex story. He has a strong sense of civic right and wrong. He is ingenious at penetrating the official fog."
The nomination added: "America would be a more just, less corrupt country if every city had a Craig McCoy. Unfortunately, such journalists are rare."
McCoy, easily identifiable in the newsroom by his rumpled appearance - often with the back of a shirt dangling over his pants - credited The Inquirer with providing "us the resources to do the long-term, complicated stories."
Isidor Feinstein Stone was born in Philadelphia, attended high school in Haddonfield, and studied philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. He worked for an assortment of newspapers in the area, including The Inquirer.
Because of his left-wing, antiestablishment views during the height of McCarthyism, he couldn't find a publisher for his work, so in 1952, he started printing his own newsletter and mailed it to subscribers.
"No doubt," McCoy observed, "he'd be a blogger today."