I have to preface this with an admission: I don't watch a lot of MTV. Ever since the network played its last music video circa 1998 and switched to the inane-reality-show-aimed-at-teen-girl genre, it hasn't been up there on my TV priorities.
But when I heard that MTV was producing a reality show based around the inner workings of a student newspaper, for some fairly obvious reasons my interests were piqued. Wait - there's a catch. It's a high-school newspaper. OK, so I shouldn't have thought the producers would move beyond the realm of the demographic they're very obviously aiming for. But I did have reason to hope it might venture outside of breakups and blondes and into, dare I say it, brains. The show is being produced by the network's News and Documentary unit, not the folks responsible for such winners as Laguna Beach and The Hills. "It's not hot tubs and Jacuzzis," Dave Kolko, one of the show's producer-directors, told the Miami Herald. "It's real kids. It's a professionally done newspaper."
I made a point to watch the first episode, which aired Monday night. The show centers on The Circuit, the award-winning student newspaper at Cypress Bay High School in Weston, Fla., and the first episode dealt with the question of which teenager would ascend to the coveted position of editor-in-chief. There's Amanda, the bespectacled, bossy copy editor who professes that attaining the position would be, "the highlight of my life, pretty much." (Spoiler: she gets the job). Alex, the sports editor, also vies for the top spot, but ends up as the managing editor (second in command). Giana, the bitchy clubs editor, loses out on editor-in-chief and gets news editor. Meanwhile, the dramatic and flamboyant business manager, Adam, is devastated to find he's relegated to advertising manager, basically the same position he held the year before.
The problem Amanda faces, particularly after she's named editor-in-chief, is that the staff doesn't respect her or think she'll do a good job, and they flaunt their disdain openly. It is high school, after all.
Real kids? Fine. Real editorial issues? I'm not so sure. In the course of the first episode (which in 22 minutes featured perhaps two close-up shots of the actual paper, one of them on a headline saying something about cheerleaders and pom-poms), the only item related to newspaper production was a mini-crisis about grayscale, the shading sometimes put behind articles to differentiate them from the rest of the content. The rest? Mean phone calls, teenage angst, backstabbing galore, etc. Of course, with a staff consisting of hormonal post-pubescents, this material was bound to play a role, but would it be terrible, MTV, to show viewers something, anything, relating to real journalism? Granted, I've only seen the first episode, so there's time for the show to redeem itself, but given the content it's pretty clear the approach the producers are taking.
In this era of declining circulation, dropping ad revenue and Jayson Blair debacles, newspapers need young people's interest more than ever, and the show's an incredible opportunity to facilitate that. What better chance to teach teens that to be successful, you don't need to be beautiful and rich? Unfortunately, after the first episode The Paper seems well on its way to fumbling the ball.
The opening moments of the first episode featured a voiceover from Amanda claiming, "Journalists are the most important people in the world." OK, MTV. Perhaps we could get a little bit about why that may or may not be the case? No, wait. Giana's making out with her boyfriend (like, in the office!). You should probably cut to that instead.
Jacob Kriss is a senior English major who thinks the best use for The Paper would be to roll it up and smack its producers in the face with it.