MTV News, RIP
The cultural landscape will not see its like again
I will forever associate my 8th grade year in middle school as the time I truly came of age as a music gormandizer, because that’s the year the MTV News Department came into my life. And now, after many years of living on a cultural back burner, MTV News is back in the spotlight, albeit for all the wrong reasons, because Paramount has shut it down. It leaves a gap that nothing can fill.
In the waning months of 1987 and the beginning of 1988, I was 14 years old, and still collecting toys and watching cartoons when I first got hit with the urge to change the channel from the USA Cartoon Express to MTV as part of my nightly viewing routine. Don’t get me wrong, I had been watching MTV since my Uncle George and I saw it sign on the air for the first time on August 1, 1981. And music videos had been a major source of stimuli for my young mind throughout elementary school and beyond. But it was during 8th grade that the channel really began speaking to me on a level that would alter the course of my future.
The MTV News Department was a ragtag posse of music obsessives and intellectuals who brought knowledge, humor and, above all, street cred to the popular cable channel upon its official launch in 1987 (there always was a newsdesk at the channel in some capacity since its inception). For a kid like me who also began picking up copies of Rolling Stone, SPIN and the free Tower Records music monthly Pulse Magazine around the same time, MTV News was the place I was able to see and hear some of the artists I would read about.
Artists like the Pixies, the Replacements, Jane’s Addiction, Public Enemy and R.E.M., all of whom I would also get to enjoy on programs like 120 Minutes and Yo! MTV Raps as well. But on MTV News, through its menagerie of on-the-scene reports, live clips and studio interviews allowed me to get to know these acts beyond their records.
MTV News also helped me become a better citizen of my country as well, and I really mean that. As a kid living in pre-hipster Ulster County, NY, in the days when the Internet was merely in its pupa stage, it was through MTV News that I learned about Greenpeace and Rock The Vote, not to mention my early exposure to the importance of our First Amendment rights and the dangers of prejudice and bigotry in our society. Through their social awareness reporting, the MTV News Department was offering us more of a clear-eyed education on the AIDS crisis and LGBTQ+ rights during a dark time for the gay population in this country.
Even politically, MTV News made me more aware of my governmental surroundings more than my social studies class ever did. It was indeed a hoot watching Bill Clinton stump his way through awkward questions about weed and underwear during the famous Choose or Lose 1992 Presidential campaign special.
“We told the story of the alternative nation from within the halls of the temple of the mainstream,” former MTV News personality Tim Sommer wrote in Rock & Roll Globe a couple years back. And he’s absolutely right. Before Nirvana and the big grunge boom hit the network like an atom bomb, adventurous music fans would initially get exposure to new and happening acts through the MTV News desk, which would then lead us to learn more about someone like a Lou Reed or an Elvis Costello or a Sonic Youth by exploring their catalog or reading about them in the magazines. It’s what I did throughout high school, and even a little bit going into my first year at community college. It helped me want to become a music writer and editor.
Yes, MTV News in its final years was a mismanaged mess of the best intentions that never matched the quality of its heyday predecessors. When Paramount announced it was shutting down the news department as part of a layoff massacre that cut 25 percent of the company’s staff, many people were like, “MTV News was still a thing?” This once highly influential outlet, which served as the true music heart of the channel, limped to its death.
Granted, if you go on their (now defunct) YouTube channel, you’ll find an interesting interview from Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park about the expanded edition of Meteora and chats with the likes of such contemporary artists as 6lack, Chloe and Fall Out Boy. There’s also a small cache of archival footage like an interview with Aerosmith and Run DMC from the Raising Hell era and footage of the first Lollapalooza festival available as well. However, based on their viewing numbers, it seemed like not enough people were directed to these otherwise well-produced clips for Paramount to let it continue breathing.
While it’s quite sad to hear MTV News may be gone for good, fret not. Thankfully, there is enough archived material on YouTube available from third party obsessives to sate your memory bank. It’s not much, but what little is out there offers a reminder of what made the MTV newsroom so special and so key to a budding young music journo like me. For instance, here’s an MTV News brief with Kurt Loder from 1988 where he talks about the 20th anniversary of Led Zeppelin (complete with Kingdom Come diss!) and, get this, the rise of magazines. Here’s another link to a complete episode of the MTV News flagship show The Week In Rock from June 13, 1992, with Tabitha Soren behind the desk.
Take yourself down the rabbit hole and reminisce about a time when MTV News was a vital source of information and discovery for music fans all over America. It’s unlikely we will ever again see its likes in our media landscape.
One thought on “MTV News, RIP”
“Artists like the Pixies, the Replacements, Jane’s Addiction, Public Enemy and R.E.M.” I produced Week In Rock segments with all of them, with Loder interviewing. Good times!