Liner Notes: Goodbye, MTV News. You will be missed.
Stars and Stripes May 19, 2023
It was of a time and for a time. For those of us who are a very specific age – and I do mean very specific age – when you saw Kurt Loder’s face pop up in the middle of the day on MTV, you knew something important had happened. Actually, considering how those were the days when “breaking news” actually meant “news that just broke,” it wasn’t just something important that had happened; more often than not, it was something bad. Loder’s profile was always serious, his face never smiling, and he had a voice that exuded authority. He wasn’t on the TV to tell us U2’s plane just touched down at the next tour stop. Instead, he came around to break some sad, serious stuff to us music fans.
And now that news will break in such a way no more. That’s because after about 36 years, MTV News is no more.
Last week, MTV’s parent company, Paramount Global, announced that it would shutter the MTV arm that at one time really, really mattered to some of us music nerds. To be fair, that “one time” was quite a bit ago. Upon hearing MTV was officially sunsetting its news division probably had many people first say, “Wait, MTV is still a thing?” Which was almost certainly followed by, “And … huh, MTV News, too?”
But it’s true. Despite the glory days of “Unplugged,” “TRL,” “Live At The 10 Spot” and “120 Minutes” being long gone, MTV has still been truckin’ ahead. Sure, that might mean 562 episodes of something called “Ridiculousness” per year, and yeah, music videos hold about as much weight as an eight-track single in this modern day of fickle technology, but MTV hasn’t died quite yet. Perhaps the death of MTV News foreshadows something more ominous on that front, but that’s for another day. Currently, we pour one out for the network’s news division.
“The Week In Rock” was must-see TV from about 1987 to 1994. It was a half-hour of Loder, Tabitha Soren, Alison Stewart, SuChin Pak or even Gideon Yago taking us through the biggest music stories of the week and at the time, there was nothing else like it. Think about the way networks like Fox News or MSBNC present their nighttime television these days, remove the partisanship, add some Lollapalooza clips, stop being mean, and you’ll get the point. More so, when those breaking news alerts came … man, if your heart didn’t drop into your gut, you didn’t have a pulse.
Who can forget the way the news of Kurt Cobain’s death was relayed on one of those MTV News breaks? Ditto for Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. And don’t even get me started on all the various degrees of Michael Jackson coverage. From Lisa Marie to Bubbles to, you know, Jackson’s actual musical output, that news staff had everything covered. They were there to glorify grunge and magnify Madonna. It predated an age when information on the music biz recalibrated itself by the Retweet and it was, really, the only televised source for such things. In its own way, it was revolutionary.
That’s why you can’t fault MTV for trying again when in 2016, it kind of/sort of tried a reboot, dedicating itself to long-form journalism in the digital age and even scooping up some Grantland alumni, to boot. As Spin fascinatingly chronicled in 2017, it simply wasn’t meant to work. To be MTV, you have to have fruitful relationships with the artists. To do worthwhile journalism, you can’t be afraid of offending the artists. As Jordan Sargent wrote for Spin, acts like Kings of Leon and Chance The Rapper threatened to boycott MTV’s awards shows and end all ties with the outlet if unfavorable reviews were left published. The simple age of simple music news was no more and the bygone days of having authoritative voices being the Place To Go for music information was antiquated and not realistic.
But that doesn’t mean last week’s announcement doesn’t end a consequential era for some of us. Watching MTV News programming as a teenager, that was all I wanted to be when I grew up. How neat would it be to hang out with Pearl Jam backstage at some club in Seattle before Seattle became the center of the music universe? Or, shoot. Maybe even be a post-show correspondent at a Video Music Awards ceremony? It seemed like the coolest job in the world. Now, it doesn’t exist.
So, kudos to you, MTV News and all you provided for such a short period in musical history. Without you, Kurt Loder would have been just another Rolling Stone scribe and Gideon Yago would have been just another political correspondent. Some people only loved their MTV. Me? I loved my MTV News. And in the name of Tabitha Soren’s post-MTV photography career, I know I couldn’t have been the only one.