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MTV News Still on the Edge of Political News

BY Alan Rosenblatt | Tuesday, April 22 2008

Think MTV's Street Team '08 once again puts MTV News at the leading edge of election news coverage. I have long been a fan of MTV News and its coverage of electoral politics. Back in the early '90's, while I was researching presidential use of television to manipulate public opinion for my dissertation, I was an avid viewer of MTV News. Kurt Loder and Tabitha Soren were doing some really edgy stuff, from gathering college students into a Boston University auditorium to measure their real-time reactions to the presidential debates, to Tabitha Soren interviewing George H.W. Bush on the back platform of a moving train the Sunday before election day (who could forget Poppy referring to "MTV afficionados," showing how completely disconnected he was from young voters?), MTV offered a new breed of television news.

And that tradition continues on today, as MTV News migrates most of its news programming online, including the beta site Think MTV. Think MTV's foray into election news coverage is an ambitious project called Street Team '08. MTV has recruited and hired 51 amateur journalists to blog about the election. 51, as in one for every state plus one for DC. Supervising Producer of Street Team '08 Michael Scogin talks more about the project here:

I recently met the DC blogger, Erica Anderson, or as she is known online, Erica America. Erica is a very bright, young aspiring journalist who counts Helen Thomas as her mentor. And from what I could see, she has the same kind of passion and tenacity for journalism as Ms. Thomas, who dominated the White house press corp for much of my life. Erica, like the rest of the Street Team '08 bloggers, gets $500 a month for her work. In addition, each of the bloggers was given a veritable treasure trove of equipment to help them do their work, including a digital video camera, digital voice recorder, a computer, a tripod, and a digital camera.

Erica explained the rules she must follow as a member of the Street Team '08:

  • No stories that the mainstream media is covering
  • Maintain a youth appeal to all stories
  • MTV producers review and comment on the stories (a bit of pro-am collaboration)
  • Must use MTV's video player
  • All stories must be posted to Think.MTV.com first

After posting stories to Think.MTV.com, Erica is free to post a story to her own blog, Erica-America.com.

And what has Erica been covering in her posts? Well, recently, she has dived head-long into the plight of the Iraq war veteran. She recently covered the Winter Soldier conference held in Maryland, just outside of DC. The Winter Soldier conference was hosted by Iraq Veterans Against the War, and sad, but true to Street Team rules, this was a story ignored by the mainstream media (the only other place I heard about it was on Democracy Now).Erica collected 6 hours of video from the event and I am looking forward to how she uses it.

But, as all good blogs do, Erica took the story to a personal level. She discovered that her cousin, who she had never met, had deserted instead of reporting to a second tour in Iraq. He ended up in the brig down in Quantico, VA. Erica went down to meet him and recorded a very personal interview about why he did what he did. Think.MTV picked this story up and featured it on its homepage.

Essentially, MTV news has a hierarchy of news sites, with MTV News at the top, with its election coverage site Choose or Loose now incorporated into the beta Think.MTV below that. The best of the Street team '08 posts get featured on the Think.MTV hompage and occasionally on MTV.com, itself.

While I only had a chance to talk to one of the Street Team, I did learn from Erica that the 51 bloggers selected represent a wide range of views, backgrounds, and ages, which clearly adds to the quality and scope of perspective the project brings.

This project fits nicely into the emerging tradition of teaming amateur and professional media together that has been pioneered by Jay Rosen's New Assignment project. The key lesson from new Assignment's first project, AssignmentZero (sounds like an old monster movie, doesn't it?), was that the professional editors also needed online commuity organizing skills to pull the collaboration off. To the extent the Street Team bloggers are one-person operations, rather than a writing team, this may not matter so much for MTV. But the continued exploration of enhancing amateur journalists with professional editors looks very fruitful on MTV. Once again, MTV News leads the way in covering the elections.

And now the data dump...

Online Audience Size:

Television Audience Size:

  • MTV (features bi-weekly highlights from top Street Team stories): 98 million viewers each quarter
  • MTV Tr3s (features Latino-oriented Street Team pieces): 31.9 million households
  • MTVU (at least one college-oriented Street Team piece a week, aired multiple times): 750 campus with 7.5 million students

Mobile Audience Size:

  • m.MTV.com: 1.5-2 million page views monthly
  • m.streetteam08.com: 3,200 visitors and 18,000 page views since launch
  • Verizon Mobile Subscriptions: 17,000-18,000 streams per day across MTV channel; 3,000 streams of 6 Street Team videos in past month
  • Choose or Lose Mediaflo Channel: not yet launched