MTV News is Back
The Los Angeles office of MTV News wasn’t the office I was expecting. “It wasn’t the office I was expecting, either,” laughs Editorial Director Dan Fierman. He and his L.A.-based staff share one table in a rented conference room on the Paramount Studios lot. It looks like a startup. But that’s fitting.
Fierman was editing ESPN’s Grantland when, last year, he was approached about a job at MTV News. He wasn’t sure what to think. MTV News was iconic in the late 1980s and 1990s, but for MTV’s young audience, that’s a very long time ago. “It didn’t seem like a brand that was in a particularly good place,” Fierman says. Nor was it anything like Grantland, which was known for writerly sports features and pop culture criticism. “I kept saying at every meeting, ‘You realize I do something very different than what you’re doing right now, and I will burn it down,’ and they just kept saying, ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s exactly what we want.’”
“My argument to them was, essentially, you’ve gotten 40 million people”—MTV’s monthly online audience—“by doing pieces that could be from BuzzFeed, that could be from Mashable, that could be from anywhere,” Fierman says. “If you’re trying to do everything, then you’re essentially nothing.” So he set about focusing MTV News on “music-driven pop culture” and “politics and issues-driven news.” He began gathering talent, versatile young journalists like Jamil Smith and Doreen St. Félix who can write, appear on camera (television, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, wherever else video is these days), and host podcasts. He hired star music editor Jessica Hopper away from Pitchfork. About half of the senior staff is with Fierman in Los Angeles.
“There’s really only one question that matters in our business right now, and it’s being solved in real time, and that’s what television will look like in 2020,” he tells me. “That’s going to be solved in Los Angeles.”