10 Iconic Moments in MTV News History

Phil Collins and Sting at Live Aid in 1985.
Phil Collins and Sting at Live Aid in 1985. / Georges De Keerle/GettyImages

Gen Xers and Millennials uttered a collective gasp on May 9, 2023, when Paramount announced it was shutting down MTV News after more than three decades of operation. As a division of MTV—a cable network that got its start playing nothing but music videos—MTV News emerged as a groundbreaking source of information for young people in the ’80s and ’90s. Led by Kurt Loder, a middle-aged former Rolling Stone editor who in 1987 became anchor of a new show called The Week In Rock, MTV News offered smart, edgy reporting on everything from music and fashion to sex and politics

In addition to Loder, MTV News made stars of on-air personalities like Tabitha Soren, Alison Stewart, Serena Altschul, SuChin Pak, Sway Calloway, Chris Connelly, and John Norris. While MTV News lost some of its prominence in the 2000s, as the internet usurped cable TV, it staged a comeback in 2016, when former Grantland boss Dan Fierman joined as editorial director in hopes of reinventing the division as a hub for quality longform journalism. Unfortunately, MTV restructured and pivoted to video the following year.

Now that MTV News is gone for good, we’re looking back at 10 iconic movements from its history.

1. David Bowie Advocates for Black Artists

MTV News was still in its infancy in 1983, but already, it was a forum for important conversations. During a sit-down with VJ Mark Goodman, David Bowie put the network on blast for its lack of diversity. “I’m floored by the fact that there are so few Black artists featured on [MTV],”Bowie said. “Why is that?" Goodman’s response about the need to appease Middle America didn’t sit right with Bowie, who ended by saying, “I understand your point of view.”

2. Live Aid Offers a Proof of Concept.

When TV executive Doug Herzog joined MTV in 1984, he took the title of news director and began building out the division that would become MTV News. As he recently told Esquire, the “big turning point” came during Live Aid on July 13, 1985. MTV’s VJs were able to interview artists backstage and quickly get the footage on air. “MTV News was suddenly something to look at and pay attention to,” Herzog said. They even grabbed a few minutes with Phil Collins, who famously played both the London and Philadelphia concerts.

3. The Berlin Wall Comes Down

On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall finally came down after nearly three decades. It symbolized the end of the Cold War and the dawn of a new era of peace for Europe and the world, and MTV News was on the scene to capture the excitement. “I can’t believe it,” one young German woman said. “I think I’m in a dream or something.” 

4. Sex in the ’90s

In 1991, before the debut of the pioneering reality show The Real World, MTV News got into the docuseries game with Sex in the ’90s, a candid look at the mating habits of young people at the dawn of the decade. Two of the most memorable subjects on the initial episode were the “Dog Brothers” of Long Island, spray-tanned proto-Jersey Shore meatheads with one-track minds.

5. The First Lollapalooza

In the summer of 1991, the idea of getting a bunch of hip musical acts together in a big open field seemed really novel. So when Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell launched his inaugural Lollapalooza festival in Arizona that June, MTV News turned up to watch as sweaty young folks vibed to Nine Inch Nails, Ice-T, Butthole Surfers, and others. “Some kind of egg’s about to crack,” Farrell said, predicting the alt-rock revolution right around the corner.

6. Choose (Clinton) or Lose

In 1992, MTV launched its “Choose or Lose” campaign, an attempt to get young people interested in voting. MTV News covered the presidential campaigns of both Republican incumbent George H.W. Bush and Democratic challenger Bill Clinton, but only one candidate managed to charm the youth demographic. Hint: It wasn’t Bush.

7. The Death of Kurt Cobain

MTV Unplugged: Nirvana
Kurt Cobain on 'MTV Unplugged.' / Frank Micelotta Archive/GettyImages

In what amounts to the Gen X equivalent of Walter Kronkite announcing the Kennedy assassination, Kurt Loder interrupted MTV programming on April 8, 1994, to announce Nirvana frontman’s Kurt Cobain’s death by apparent suicide. “Kurt Loder with an MTV News special report on a very sad day,” Loder said, prefacing news that would devastate millions.

8. Boxers or Briefs?

In April 1994, less than two weeks after the discovery of Cobain’s body, newly elected President Clinton kept a campaign promise to young voters and returned to MTV for a town hall meeting on violence in America. During the broadcast, 17-year old Tisha Thompson—now an ESPN reporter—asked, “Mr. President, the world’s dying to know: boxers or briefs?” If you were alive at the time, you probably remember his reply.

9. Courtney vs. Madonna

For as long as it has existed, the MTV Video Music Awards have been about viral moments. Like in 1984, when Madonna crawled around on the floor in a wedding dress. Or in 2003, when Madonna smooched Britney Spears. Perhaps best of all was 1995, when Courtney Love inserted herself into Kurt Loder’s post-show MTV News interview with—you guessed it—Madonna. The bizarre episode began with Love lobbing a makeup compact at Madonna, narrowly missing her. Then came several minutes of bonkers conversation about Dennis Miller, the dangers of dating rock stars, and shoes. “Well, that went well,” Loder said at the end, not quite believing his good luck.

10. Woodstock ’99 Turns Ugly

The utopian dream of the ’90s went up in smoke at Woodstock ’99, as concertgoers capped the sweltering weekend by lighting fires, looting, rioting, and generally ripping the place apart. Naturally, MTV News was there to document the mayhem. “This is a very dangerous situation,” said the ever-unflappable Loder. “Everyone is trying to get out of here. We’re going to get out of here, too.”