From the Mob to El Chapo, Reporter Juliet Papa Knows a Thing or Two About Crime in NYC

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October 18, 2022

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(NEW YORK) —If you ask Juliet Papa how to find a good story, she will tell you, “Look for drama. You look for what is so different about this story and what makes it unusual.” 

For over 25 years, the veteran 1010 WINS radio reporter has traveled to every corner of New York City, keeping an eye out for unusual happenings. Operating on the mantra that “news is not the norm,” the Bronx native and Queens College graduate has broken some of the nation’s most prominent crime stories, including the announcement of the verdict in Harvey Weinstein’s New York trial and when former mafia boss Sammy “The Bull” Gravano became a federal witness. Papa also penned several novels on organized crime, a subject she is an expert on from covering mafia trials that dominated the news in the 80s and 90s. 

“Covering organized crime was quite fascinating. I think I got good at it because I really studied it,” said Papa. “At the time, they would be sending me to all these big trials because, face it, the mob is drama! There is big drama with organized crime because they do things that would make your hair stand on end.” 

Surrounded by violent mobsters, Papa never faltered. She earned their trust and respect through her reporting. 

“You do the job. And if you do it well, they respect you. If you deal with people in a nice way, in an honest way, you get a response,” she said.

“Some of the mobsters, they were funny! If they were out on bail, or in the hallways or something, everybody would joke around,” Papa recalls of her time covering mafia trials. “They would hear me on the radio. Peter Gotti [of the Gambino crime family] once told me he was in prison and had a court appearance and said, ‘I have my little radio on every day,’ like in his cell! He says, ‘I hear you every day!’ So part of it was recognition. Part of it is just the way you handle yourself. And part of it is the job you do.”

As the overall crime index in New York City has increased by 26 percent in the last year, after years of decline, Papa’s timely reporting continues to make headlines. She fears that daily crime and subway attacks will become commonplace.

“You don’t want that,” she says. “Because then that’s almost like some bizarre acceptance that this is the norm. And that’s not acceptable. You can’t report on every crime. You’d never stop,” she added.

Papa, who is all news all the time, says her favorite part of reporting is breaking stories.

“I love being first.” 

For example, Papa deduced from a tweet written in Spanish that El Chapo, the former Mexican drug lord, was being extradited to New York.

“Now, my Spanish isn’t great. But you live in New York City or take Spanish in school, you can get the gist of certain things. So reading this tweet, and it was from Mexico, and he was going to be returned to the U.S. So I started making phone calls—people in law enforcement and certain offices. They didn’t even know about it yet. I was telling them that! ‘Hey, did you know El Chapo was coming to the United States? He’s coming to New York.’ ‘Oh, we don’t have that information.’ I said, ‘Okay, can you let me know when you do?’ So, one guy called me back and said, ‘Yeah, we just got word that he’s coming here to New York City. Thanks for letting me know.’ It was wild.” 

As technology has shifted the nature of the media landscape, radio has remained a constant. The development of social media is the most significant influence on how news is covered, Papa says, adding that you can learn a lot when platforms are used “responsibly and judiciously.”

Back in the day, she says, “You used to literally run to a payphone or phone booth, which don’t exist anymore. You ended up figuring out strategies on how to hold the phone when there might be a big verdict in a criminal case. You literally had to get a physical phone and call it in and go live.”

As Papa has adapted to the changes in her industry and city, her favorite thing remains the challenges.

“Things change in the city,” she added. “Maybe not always for the good. But there’s a challenge to living in the city, and I liked that.”

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