in journalism

The rise and fall of MTV News

Jordan Sargent has written what will probably be the definitive account of how MTV News’ experiment into serious journalism and commentary went awry. As I pointed out the other day, MTV News’ struggles are emblematic of deeper issues in online publishing.

Sargent’s piece tackles it as such, with a ton of choice quotes:

The dissolution of this micro-era of MTV News in just over a year and a half leaves us with several questions: Can a behemoth media company like MTV succeed in reinventing itself from within simply by creating a “prestige journalism” arm? Further, what kind of journalism does a company like Viacom—which is largely reliant on friendly artist relationships for its financial success—support and allow? And what even was the intended outcome? Fierman and Hopper both came to MTV News from publications—Grantland and Pitchfork’s longform print magazine, respectively—that had not been economically viable from the perspectives of various suits. Why would Viacom want to attempt it again? […]

Other issues faced by MTV News were also not particularly unique to the site. Hopper outlined a “dream world” in the press that may very well have been a fantasy, but editors overselling new sites in the hopes of drumming up excitement—and thus an audience—is part of the deal. Constant high-level turnover is also common across this tumultuous industry, with one executive hiring a group of editors and writers and then leaving them in the lap of another. New hires are often assured by their bosses that they will be given a certain period of time to see a new endeavor through, only to have it be cut short months early. Both Fierman and Hopper also came to MTV from places where prestige journalism projects were unable to be sustained—Fierman at Grantland, which was beloved and had readership in the millions, but was deemed no longer useful to ESPN once it jettisoned Bill Simmons; Hopper at Pitchfork, where she helmed the bulk of the issues of the Pitchfork Review, its boutique print magazine that stopped publishing soon after she left. In the context of MTV, too, this MTV News experiment met a routine and familiar death.

“There’s this cycle that happens, that I was a part of. Someone gets the idea that they want editorial, and then a couple editors who all know the other editors are like ‘Come here, the faucet is on’,” Suarez said of the state of the industry. “And everyone runs to that faucet and it attracts the attention of higher-ups who realize there’s too much money coming out and shut it down. Then somebody you bring to your faucet gets their own faucet, and so you run over there.”