James Kirkham
May 18, 2023

The death of MTV News symbolises the end of an era

Why the end of the music channel's much-maligned news service feels like a big cultural moment.

The death of MTV News symbolises the end of an era

MTV News, which has signed off for good after 36 years, is both a reminder of how much has changed and a signal of how things will continue to evolve now.

Once, the music video network’s news division covered a range of issues from pop culture to politics and became a household name for Generation X and Millennial adolescents.

Now, it is no more. And its closure comes swiftly after BuzzFeed shut its award-winning news division BuzzFeed News and Vice Media first cancelled its acclaimed Vice News Tonight as part of a broad restructuring then filed for  bankruptcy in the US and agreed a cut price sale this week.

So, what happened?

MTV News was at its cultural peak in the early 1990s, long before social media ever existed, and when the internet was not yet consumer ready. 

Back then, as a 15-year-old in 1992, I'd record seminal MTV loser-core cartoon Beavis and Butthead on VHS tapes then re-watch classic episodes over and over again in order to memorise the lines.

It was all for school common room currency the following day. It was our own little meme culture without the mobiles. And we recalled clips in the canteen like real-life GIF recitals.

In a time before precise recordings could be achieved, the clunky fuzzy recordings were, of course, top and tailed with MTV news which juxtaposed the show. And it was the news that caught the eye.

That was because this news like we’d never seen before. It was news that popped off the screen and delivered with language that was box-fresh and energised presenters in hyper-colour clothes.

MTV News was bold and brash. Visually arresting, it had an immediacy contrary to other broadcasters’ burgeoning longer form news shows. And you just knew the brief from above was about urgency for Generation X.

This era had grunge erupting from the ashes of the 1980s and a Seattle sound ripping out of our TV sets where once Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel held court. We needed stimulus, exhilaration and realness. And that’s what MTV News delivered.

Because it was so clearly the forerunner of publishers and news platforms to come, despite launching decades before Twitter, the end of MTV News feels like something quite culturally symbolic. 

Was there ever such a clear lineage between media and influence, yet with such a significant time gap?

Normally, you can see the media evolution in real time with technology and content one year informing different variants the next. Yet all seminal internet brands and media companies had MTV in their presentations as a North Star.

So what’s next and where does this leave us?

Now, we have become obsessed with division. Facebook walls have replaced the debating halls and online behaviour is even worse than the most aggressive prime minister's questions.

We seek solace in dark social like Telegram and WhatsApp, which provide us with social safe havens where we can write without fear of social toxicity.

And because we are varied, multi-faceted souls who want to see outdoor cooking one second and Formula One Grand Prix results the next, Tik Tok is like playing cultural roulette.

Is it any surprise, then, that young people have never been more disenfranchised. And never before have they turned so much to culturally symbolic talents also making a real difference – like Rashford, the Lionesses, Sterling and Stomrzy.

Against this backdrop, with the demise of MTV News – and BuzzFeed News, and the end of Vice Media, as it was – what we are left with a gap in the frontline of popular culture.

Look carefully and we might just be able to spot which of the current players can have such an exciting generational influence on us all.

James Kirkham is founder of Iconic

Campaign UK

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