A year ago, I was hired to report on the election for MTV News as part of their Street Team ’08. I was thrilled – and so stoked that the Knight Foundation provided MTV with about $700,000 to run the program. With my gifted gear, I was ready to reach out to my peers, get some formal clips and gather lessons about life, journalism and the shape of our nation.
Did I ever.
Today Gawker broke the story about how MTV has been continually late on paying the Street Team. My heart just about dropped as one of my Street Team colleagues sent it to me. (I was the Washington, DC Rep for the program.) “Wow,” I thought. “This shit is finally out.”
Here is the story of how 51 totally connected, mobile, ambitious, do-good nerds…were recruited, called Street Team ’08, and taught a very personal – and public lesson about the world we live in.
Back in the summer, we received the first indication that MTV was not able to meet parts of their contract. Our paychecks were late. The official line from the company was “This is not just happening to you,” and that all other freelancers at the company were also not being paid on time. On the private Street Team list serve, the conversation raged. Admittingly, I listened more than I participated as I didn’t always notice how late they were. I, very fortunately, had another job that was more than understanding of my late hours and commitment to the network. What I didn’t have was more than four hours of sleep a night. But when you want something enough you make it work.
On the list serve, the team began to commiserate about not being able to pay bills on time. This is when I realized it was serious. We were under tremendous stress to meet deadlines and produce quality, Emmy-award winning work. (The program won an Emmy last month.) One of our colleagues lost his job because he updated a MTV post at his office. Another quit (well, many quit), because the time requirements were so enormous and the pay was hardly enough to cover expenses. Soon, the resignations began to pour in.
Each time a Street Teamer resigned, he or she was replaced and an email from our Producers would follow. To be honest, I did not blame any of them. It was a grueling 11 months, one that required us to hold down other jobs, work late into the night and wearily try to use the MTV Brand to land unbelievable interviews and opportunities.
But one thing happened that I never expected. The lesson now, has become so relevant to the news we were covering – and our experience with MTV at the intersection of our nation’s financial crisis, the meltdown of traditional news media – and how the innocent idealism of youth that helped change a nation’s course – was exploited. What happened would wake us all up – on the Street Team, to the Real World.
** This was difficult for me to write because despite the issues, I learned a tremendous amount about life, new media and the path I want to take in journalism from the Street Team experience. More than anything, this is not a personal attack towards any individuals who communicated the bad news to the team. Without them I would not have gained so much out of the program.