While Streetsblog is decidedly up in arms over the journalism atrocities practiced by WCBS-TV’s Marcia Kramer, WPIX – who has a track record of drumming up anti-MTA sentiment through its reporting – quietly ran an “exclusive” story last night about MTA waste.
The story accuses the MTA of “wasting” $10,000 a year on newspaper subscriptions for two top executives, their head of media relations, their spokesman, and the agency’s law library. Citing that the newspapers are available “for free online,” reporter Greg Mocker makes it abundantly clear that he thinks the MTA doesn’t need these subscriptions. Putting aside the fact that two of the newspapers the MTA receives have web sites that are behind paywalls (the Wall Street Journal and Newsday), Mocker ignores his journalism background and basic knowledge of how public relations works to do a smarmy, sarcastic journalistic hit-job on the MTA.
For one thing, a lot is said about the MTA each day. They need newspaper subscriptions to monitor those stories. It is the responsibility of the media relations team and spokesman to monitor news stories about the MTA and respond when necessary. Heck, Greg Mocker himself had to reach out to the very people who receive these subscriptions. He works in journalism (or a sorry excuse for it, at least). Shouldn’t he know why they get these newspapers? The ads in newspapers aren’t available online, either – and political ads by groups like the Working Families Party are ones that the MTA’s media relations team should respond to regularly. Perhaps Mocker has a point about the Village Voice, which the MTA pays for a subscription despite its availability on the street for free. But then again, if a homeless man takes an entire stack of the free paper for bedding or urinates in the box at the newsstand, are we to expect an MTA employee to run around the city looking for the paper on the taxpayers’ dime? That would probably rile up WPIX enough to air a shrill expose, too.
Secondly, isn’t it the job of the MTA chairman to stay informed about what the public is saying about his agency? Chairman Jay Walder reads the newspapers on the way to work each morning so he can respond accordingly. He also receives the Washington Post, a crucial tool for monitoring news about Federal funding for transit, which could save the state millions upon millions of dollars and potentially save transit riders from damaging service cuts and fare hikes. Does Mocker really think this is unnecessary? Probably not, but it gave him and WPIX another opportunity to play the role of populist hero by misinforming the masses.
What’s missing more than anything else from this story is perspective. For one thing, even Mocker himself admits that the MTA cut their newspaper subscription costs by 80% three years ago – a fact that would indicate that in Jay Walder’s successful bid to cut waste out of the MTA’s budget, he saw no need to cut further in this area. But what’s entirely omitted from the story is a mention of the size of the MTA’s budget deficit: $800 million. If Greg Mocker and WPIX aired this hit piece to sucker the MTA into cutting these subscriptions entirely, that would bring the MTA 0.000013% closer to fiscal solvency.
Congratulations, WPIX! Only another 99.999987% to go!