This week, Paramount closed down MTV News for good as part of a larger program of layoffs. The Hollywood Reporter put together an oral history of MTV News that is as much a eulogy for the once-powerful youth news organization as it is recollection of MTV’s heyday in pop culture. The oral history is well worth a read, especially if you’re part of the “MTV generation” that grew up back when MTV was good. I was recently talking to a couple Gen Zeds about MTV News, specifically, and how vital it was when I was kid.
Kurt Loder is where I got all my news. It’s where I heard about the deaths of Tupac, Biggie Smalls, and Kurt Cobain, it shaped my understanding of American politics through coverage of presidential elections throughout the 1990s, and by that fateful election in 2000, I felt like MTV News was the only place giving me the story straight, explaining “hanging chads” and recounts and, most importantly, what was at stake for American democracy. MTV News is where I learned about the AIDS crisis and the failure of officials to provide a meaningful public health response, and where I heard about Matthew Shepard’s death and learned what a hate crime is. MTV News—and MTV at large, to be fair—was my first exposure to RuPaul and my only window into LGBTQ+ culture growing up in conservative suburban America.
It's been a long time since MTV News was relevant—all the serious people left in the mid-2000s, by which time MTV had gone completely downhill and lost cultural real estate to the internet. And, as I told the Zeds in my life, I don’t bemoan that. MTV News had its heyday in a time pre-internet, when it was the only easily accessible news source speaking directly to young people and teenagers. Then the internet came along and took over that job, outsourcing the news from one concentrated source to a smorgasbord of sources. Debating the internet’s role in the degradation of journalism—I argue venture capitalism has been far more damaging—is a separate conversation. At least as far as youth culture is concerned, once MTV lost its cool factor, MTV News was not far behind.
But MTV News instilled in me enough distrust in The Man that I am deeply suspicious of the current state of social media, from the deliberate trashification of Twitter, to the potential and entirely politically driven ban of TikTok. I look at the way safety tips are circulated on TikTok, or the wildfire spread on social media of information on how to organize large-scale protests, particularly during 2020, and wonder who benefits from damaging, even outright destroying, these sources. It certainly isn’t the young people who use them as a primary source of information.
MTV News experienced a slow-moving death. By the time its heyday was over in the early 2000s, Jon Stewart had taken over and reshaped The Daily Show, and blogs were rising on the internet. There were other sources of youth-friendly news and information, it was democratizing and spreading beyond a single, corporatized source. But now, social media moves so fast and is so tumultuous, in general, I wonder what happens if a major platform were to suddenly fail. Nobody loves Twitter, but I think we’re all aware there is no replacement, at least not yet, for how useful it is in disseminating information quickly to mass audiences.
Anyway, food for thought, as we reminisce about The Good Ole Days when Kurt Loder told us what was going on in the world. The need for solid sources of news and information tuned to the unique frequency of youth culture has never gone away, even if the method of delivery continually changes.
Live long and gossip,