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Music Channels Are 'N Sync' With War Coverage

The "R" in MTV's Total Request Live might soon be replaced with a "W" as the music network prepares to cover war for the Eminem generation.

"It's very much on the minds of the young people," said Dave Sirulnick, MTV's vice president of news and production. "It's become more than just a political issue, it's a life issue."

Unconventional outlets like the music network and Black Entertainment Television are planning to devote airtime to the war in Iraq for their viewers who relate more to Carson Daly than Peter Jennings.

Several MTV reports on the looming conflict have already aired, and correspondent Gideon Yago, 23, who is creating a "diary" for MTV, recently visited soldiers and young Arabs in Kuwait.

But some media experts says music channel staffers who follow Britney Spears' love life might be out of their scope covering Baghdad.

"Getting your news from MTV is a chancy proposition," said Adam Buckman, TV columnist for the New York Post. "Of all the things in journalism, covering war requires experience."

Both channels have had a news presence for some time. But their reports, while sometimes venturing into politics, have focused on popular culture.

"MTV for a while had a lot of integrity in news, but the last couple years has been checkered if not non-existent," said Buckman. "MTV made its bones in news with Bill Clinton in the '90s when the channel became important for candidates."

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, MTV aired a town meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell, but has yet to persuade a prominent administration official to talk about Iraq.

BET scored big late last year with an interview with embattled Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., but recently the network announced it would cancel several of its news programs.

"The network has had shaky credibility in the African-American community in the areas of news and information." Condace Pressley, the president of the National Association of Black Journalists, told the Los Angeles Times.

But teens aren’t as likely to turn on 60 Minutes, so any news is better than none, said Julia Wang, senior editor at J-14 , an entertainment magazine for teens.

"I think teens will absorb the news simply because they watch these channels all day long," she said. "They may not be getting in-depth coverage, but at least they'll have some sense of what's going on if we go to war."

MTV is spending ample time talking about the experiences of young soldiers, many of whom are the same age as the network's viewers. The series True Life will profile soldiers preparing for war in a segment called I'm Shipping Out.

The network's executives, who are constantly taking the pulse of their audience's ever-changing moods, were surprised at the level of interest in the conflict in a recent poll. War ranked equal to drug abuse as the top concern of people aged 14 to 24.

"If you're a 20-year-old, you're getting only pieces of it," Sirulnick said. "Nobody is explaining this in a way that makes sense to you, in a way that is delivered specifically for you."

Other niche outlets are also getting some action -- the Pentagon has agreed to let a Hustler reporter travel with ground troops in Iraq.

"If people are going to send their kids into combat, they have every right to know what is really going on," publisher Larry Flynt said to Newsweek. "Only a free press can offer that — no matter if it’s the mainstream media or someone who works for me."

But critics are skeptical about having networks that beam images of Christina Aguilera's midriff nationwide cover international military operations.

"Programming on MTV is not made for those who think very deeply," said Buckman. "News coverage of a war by nature has to be dealt with in-depth and giving it super slick MTV treatment is not going to work."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.