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Thirty-six years after MTV News was created to expand the stable of programming that defined the cable channel MTV, it is no more.
MTV News was shuttered this week as part of larger layoffs at parent company Paramount Global.
What launched as a single show in 1987 (The Week in Rock, led by correspondent Kurt Loder) eventually became a bona fide news outlet for Gen X and older millennials who found that traditional TV programming on the broadcast networks and CNN wasn’t cutting it.
Correspondents like Loder, Tabitha Soren, SuChin Pak, Gideon Yago, Alison Stewart and others covered music, pop culture, politics and other topics with an eye toward the younger generation that was tuned to MTV, rather than the network evening newscasts.
Along the way, MTV News created some pop culture moments itself, perhaps none bigger than in 1994, when President Clinton appeared on MTV’s Enough Is Enough, a town hall addressing violence in America.
The special was led by Soren and Stewart and saw them, as well as audience members in attendance, asking questions of Clinton about fighting crime and balancing personal freedom with social responsibility. But it was a section of lighter questions and answers that made national headlines, when an audience member asked Clinton, “Mr. President, the world’s dying to know, is it boxers or briefs?”
“Usually briefs. I can’t believe she did that,” Clinton responded, to laughter from the crowd.
MTV News subsequently held town halls with Barack Obama, John McCain, Bill Gates and others, and boxers or briefs would become a running joke still referenced to this day.
Coverage of topics like sexual health, the Iraq War and devastating natural disasters earned the news division and its correspondents Emmys and Peabody Awards, while it continued to deliver news and criticism of music and pop culture.
On April 8, 1994, MTV broke into regular programming after it had confirmed the death of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, with Loder breaking the news to the channel’s viewers.
To be certain, the MTV News of 2023 was much smaller and far less high-profile than the MTV News of the 1990s and early 2000s, when it could help define pop culture and cover stories more traditional outlets wouldn’t touch.
MTV News was already significantly reduced in size back in 2017, when it largely abandoned a strategy to take on outlets like BuzzFeed and Vice with a team of digital journalists led by Grantland alum Dan Fierman. The company said at the time it would refocus on shortform content and video in a return to its roots (MTV News used to have interstitials at the top of the hour on the cable channel with news updates). The most recent iteration focused on entertainment and pop culture news and criticism.
Now, however, amid a larger upheaval in the entertainment business, and with Paramount looking to cut costs, MTV News is one of the pieces that just didn’t fit in the larger strategy at play. According to Comscore, MTV drew 6 million monthly visitors to its flagship website in March, up slightly from 5.6 million in the same month a year earlier.
It was a real digital presence, but small potatoes compared to competitors like BuzzFeed and Vice, which have also shuttered or downsized their news divisions in recent months.
At its peak, beyond covering pop culture, MTV News was a part of the culture, as were its correspondents, none more so than Loder, the former Rolling Stone writer who spanned multiple decades at the news division.
“He never wishes his audience a good night or a pleasant tomorrow,” wrote New York Times reporter Judith Miller in a 1993 story about MTV News’ embrace of politics. “Attired in funereal black, he looks as if he hopes that it will thunder and rain all day. He is, in short, the contemporary Reverend Dimmesdale of rock.”
Loder appeared as himself in episodes of shows like The Simpsons, That ’90s Show and Kenan & Kel.
In fact, Loder made one final MTV News appearance for corporate parent Paramount in March … sort of.
It was a fictional segment meant as an ad to tee up the new season of the Showtime series Yellowjackets.
Loder played himself at the MTV News desk, reporting on the missing soccer team whose “whereabouts are still unknown,” as Loder told viewers.
It was a throwback in more ways than one, with deepfake technology used to age Loder down to make him look and sound as he did in the early 1990s (he is now 77), the glory days for MTV News.
“Later, we’ll catch up with Grammy winner Alanis Morissette, fresh off her Jagged Little Pill tour,” Loder said to end the fictional segment, before it signed off with MTV News’ tagline: “MTV News, you hear it first.”
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