Bobby Cuza covers the transportation beat for NY1 News, New York City's 24-hour cable news network, and was one of the reporters assigned to cover December's three-day Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) transit strike.
He is also the host of NY1's In Transit program, which recaps the week's news.
PRWeek: How did you get started covering transit?
Bobby Cuza: I started covering transit when I was at Newsday, and I was recruited to the position at NY1 because of that prior expertise. Transit's actually the only beat I've had because, prior to that, I was a general assignment reporter. I like it because you do a lot of different kinds of stories; you end up covering crime stories, labor relations, features, hard news, court cases, and everything in between. And I like it because it affects so many people. It's a beat that's really unique to New York because everyone rides mass transit. I think in another city it wouldn't have as much importance.
PRWeek: What makes a good transit story?
Cuza: I think it's the same thing that makes any story a good story. I really like to look for stories that people can connect to on a personal level, even if it's something that's seemingly an isolated problem. For example, I did a story a few weeks ago about a really rancid smelling subway station on the Upper Eastside, and I got probably more response to that story than anything else I had done in months because it was something that people can relate to - a stinky subway station.
PRWeek: Take us back to the transit strike. What was the most challenging element of reporting that story?
Cuza: It was hard because there was so much coverage and there were so many reporters covering the strike that it was difficult getting information that other people didn't have.
There were also so many different fronts to the story. There were the goings-on at the union. There was the MTA's side. There was the mayor, the governor, and the court cases. There was a lot to keep track of, but the fact that I cover the transit beat was extremely helpful because I had sources in the union and elsewhere that were comfortable talking with me.
PRWeek: Do you think NY1 had a unique angle or perspective to its coverage compared to some of your competitors?
Cuza: I think we had a built-in advantage because we're 24 hours. So people just reflexively turned to us to find out what was going on. In a time when people needed information [at] 11 o'clock at night or 1 o'clock in the morning, they knew we would be there providing coverage, which is something that no other station in New York can say. Because we're 24 hours, we were able to cover the story from lots of different angles.
PRWeek: Do you think the union did a good enough job of telling its story on its rationale?
Cuza: I think the union had a hard time once people started to realize how much money transit workers make and some of the benefits they get. And I think a lot of people in the city took the attitude [of] "What are these people complaining about?" The union had to overcome that perspective. They had a hard time because they were fighting this PR war at the same time that they were negotiating around the clock.
That said, I think they actually did a pretty good job, all things considered, trying to get their side of the story out there. They had a whole PR team from Ken Sunshine Consultants get on their side. And the MTA didn't have anything on their end except for a handful of their own PR staff working on this.
PRWeek: Would you say that one side won the PR battle?
Cuza: I don't think anyone really won the PR battle because it seemed as though people in the city were sort of against both the union and the MTA. I think people were sort of frustrated and fed up, and they thought that each side could have done more to prevent this from reaching a crisis. I don't think either side really came out looking good.
PRWeek: How do you work with PR people on your beat?
Cuza: I deal especially with PR people from government agencies, from the MTA and from New York City Transit, and PR reps from the union, and elected officials. I definitely rely on them a lot for access to people and to help set up interviews. But there're also a lot of stories that don't require any help from a PR professional, where I'm getting stories from commuters and from transit workers or just individual people who are writing or calling in with tips.