June 4, 2002

 






 

 

 

 

 

Singer Dido speaks at a press conference November 7, 2001 in Frankfurt, Germany.

Is war 'cool'?
Teens turned to MTV for "news" about to terrorist attacks

When terrorists attacked the twin Towers and the Pentagon, American youth did as they always do: they turned on MTV.

The Beastie Boys emoting about terrorism isn't exactly Walter Cronkite, but that's why MTV's core audience of teenagers watch it. "The genius of MTV is that it makes kids think it's specifically something for them," said Greg Milner, associate editor at Spin magazine. Milner said though the station was not a good source of news, it provided "a kind of you-are-not-alone type of thing."

Instead of emulating the major networks by showing the burning towers and ash-coated New Yorkers after the attacks, MTV focused on what it knows best - youth and music videos. Correspondents held the mike up to teens in Times Square and lower Manhattan and reported on how the attacks affected young Arab-Americans. In December, MTV ran pieces by a CNN reporter (formerly an MTV employee) who who interviewed Afghan youth in towns newly liberated from the Taliban. The music network quickly transformed its programming from Real World reruns to the actual real world—interspersed with J. Lo videos, of course.

Discerning between entertainment and news isn't a problem for youth, Milner said. "Kids are more media savvy and can navigate between those two poles pretty well." Peter Hart, an analyst at media watchdog Fairness in Accuracy and Reporting, said teens understand MTV is not necessarily a traditional information source. However, Hart thinks the youth network did a good job explaining basics - who Colin Powell is, how Osama bin Laden gets his money - by airing brief profiles between music videos.

"They had a bit more on hate crimes and prejudice around the U.S.," Hart said, referring to brief segments about discrimination in America. "We could have seen more of that in the rest of the news media."

If other networks had aired similar material, youth probably wouldn't have tuned in anyway since the standard news format seems foreign, said Leah Chapple, an intern at Youth Radio, a Berkeley-based program that broadcasts on National Public Radio.

Chapple, a freshman at San Francisco State University, said that young people "are searching to feel comfortable" and that's why they prefer MTV to any other network, she said. Shows like The Real World make them feel like they're watching their friends, she said, even watching themselves.

Chapple said she and her friends realize MTV doesn't cover current events like other networks. "The reality is that we're watching a more confusing version of the regular news. They're not provoking young people to think, but just to buy their products and wear their clothes," she said.

"Everything is fake on TV," Chapple said. "But if it looks cool, we're on it."

- Bruce Gertsman



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