MTV claims checks are in the mail to the "citizen journalists" it really didn't want to pay, even though it got a big charity grant on their behalf. The network feels just terrible.

MTV VP Ian Rowe called Sara Benincasa (pictured), a member of the Knight Foundation-funded "Street Team '08," to say "our bad:"

He called me to personally apologize for what he called their “mismanagement” of the payment situation, and to talk about how bad he felt that what had been a fantastic experience had turned out in so disappointing a manner.... Half the checks went out Friday, and the other half go out tomorrow.

Benincasa added that Rowe called the 50 other Street Team members to apologize for the fiasco, in which meager stipends for "grueling" work came late starting in the summer and were delivered even later as fall wore on. MTV accounting treated the nascent "Street Team" journalists with the same unfriendliness as all MTV's other unpaid freelancers.

Benincasa also sent us a nice note stating that coverage on Gawker (here, here) and the Huffington Post (here) "had a huge impact" in getting the team paid.

Not to wreck the positive vibes or anything, but we also got email from a former MTV News staffer familiar with the Street Team who shed some light on the network's attitude toward the experimental project:

I worked with some of the kids on the Street Team.

MTV is a big, mean company...but hey got paid to do ONE BLOG POST A WEEK! One. Uno. That is it. Every month they needed to post two text blogs and two "vlogs". Sorry, but I don't have much sympathy for people who get paid to do that. We were pretty rigid with our editorial standards,so there were a lot of requests for re-dos. That is because the Knight Foundation controlled the purse strings and they didn't want straight opinions (I can't tell you how many "Obama is awesome"-type posts were turned down).

When MTV stopped cutting checks for freelancers [[AHEM excuse us what's that?!]] our VPs hauled ass trying to get these kids paid since the money was already there from a non-profit. And they made it happen. Our Street-Teamers got paid before any other freelancers. I'm not going to defend how MTV dealt with their freelancers, it isn't my place to do so...but these kids had a sweet deal.

Maybe! But, hey, MTV wrote the grant, won the grant, and took the grant money. It literally wrote the rules. Then it hired the workers. And it can't just decide it feels like keeping all the paychecks in its bank account, in violation of its commitments. Come to think of it, the network can't do that with any of its contracts. (Except when it can.)