MTV’s political coverage has come a long way from its Rock the Vote “Boxers or briefs?” days back in 1992. This year, the network got funding from the Knight News Challenge to hire 51 young citizen journalists (one for each state plus Washington, DC) to cover the campaign online. According to supervising producer Liz Nord, reports from Street Team 08 can then “bubble up” to any of MTV’s broadcast networks.
Writing in the latest issue of Nieman Reports, Nord says the project has allowed MTV to try some experiments using new technology:
The most ambitious of these happened on Super Tuesday, when we had reporters in 23 primary and caucus states doing live mobile-to-Web broadcasting with Nokia N95 video phones and an alpha version of Flixwagon’s embeddable player. While the video quality of the pieces was poor, the relevancy and immediacy of the reports was hard to beat.
Nord says the Street Team has dug up local political stories of interest to youth that MTV never would have had the time or resources to cover in the past. But there have also been challenges:
Many of our young reporters are immersed in blogs with very firm ideological orientations, and on those the lines between “news” and “opinion” are blurred almost beyond recognition. One of our biggest tasks then becomes finding ways to get them to uphold journalistic values, including a commitment to accuracy, while still taking advantage of the less-structured nature of the Web so their own personalities can come through in their reporting. After all, the point of this project is to give young people a voice and a platform to air their political concerns.
After reading Nord’s report, I can’t help but wonder if there’s an obvious reason that MTV has had trouble helping the team understand the difference between “personality” and “bias.” The company recruited a diverse group, many of whom apparently had little or no journalism training and few multimedia skills. Nothing wrong with that if you’re going to train them yourself, which MTV did. But the training–a “journalism boot camp” in New York–lasted just three days. Seems to me there’s no way to avoid the kinds of challenges Nord describes if you’re sending people into the field as “reporters” with that little preparation.