An MTV "citizen journalist," Erica Anderson, has gone public to describe "grueling" work conditions on a charity-sponsored project, and to confirm what anonymous coworkers told us Friday: The network isn't paying project staff.
Anderson, identified by name here, boldly posted an account of her experience to her personal website, EricaAmerica. And her coworkers bravely chimed in, names attached, to confirm her story in the comments.
Yes, they said, MTV has been severely dragging its heels paying contract workers — including, amazingly, for the philanthropic Knight-Foundation-sponsored election "Street Team," which helped MTV win a community service Emmy in November. Hoarding money until the end of the quarter may help the network meet its financial targets.
And by Anderson's telling, the network has long been willing to stretch boundaries in achieving its goals (emphasis in the original):
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...
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.
It's one thing to push a team of vastly underpaid (less than $1,000 per month) young people hard in order to win awards and provide a valuable learning opportunity. That's par for the course in the media industry, if too often taken to the extreme.
But to do so while not even doling out the meager wages on a timely basis, on a project funded with $700,000 in charity dollars, is reprehensible. The whole Street Team stipend disaster is an embarrassment even to the notoriously-exploitive managers at MTV. It would also be a shame, if the network had any left.
(Disclaimer: As noted previously, I applied unsuccessfully to the same Knight Foundation funding program as MTV. This scandal came to my attention, however, from unsolicited emails arising from a non-Street-Team-related post.)