The MTV News Archive Is Gone—and That's OK

I wrote for the .com culture site in its heyday. I don't mourn its disappearance. 


My first ever job in journalism was at something called Hollywood Crush, a young Hollywood news and gossip site that was part of the larger MTV News ecosystem. 

Although the MTV brand still had a certain cool-kid cachet, left over from a time before it became associated primarily with teen reality shows, I was not exactly pounding the pavement for the groundbreaking stories that would change the world. By the time I left—laid off in one of those periodic mass purges that were as much a hallmark of 2010s journalism as the Buzzfeed-style listicle—my greatest contribution to the discourse was a week-long dragging on Twitter by outraged Disney adults, who didn't like a joke I'd made about casting Vanessa Hudgens in the upcoming live-action reboot of Mulan

But if my early journalistic efforts were not cosmically significant, they were nevertheless real. When Twilight took the country by storm; when Jennifer Lawrence fell down at the Oscars; when one of the Jonas brothers had a messy breakup—I was there, laptop at the ready, documenting it all.

…Or was I? 

Alas, all evidence of my early career has now been stricken from the record. Last month, the MTV News site vanished in its entirety from the internet, and with it every last article, interview, and top-ten list in GIFs produced by its journalists over the course of nearly three decades. 

Granted, the most iconic content still survives elsewhere: A clip of O.G. MTV newsman Kurt Loder breaking the news of Kurt Cobain's suicide, for instance, remains available on YouTube. But for those of us whose beat was, shall we say, less crucial to the public discourse, years of our professional output have disappeared down the memory hole, lost in time, like tears in rain. 

Many of my former colleagues were dismayed by this, and I understand why: Imagine seeing an entire decade of your professional output callously erased in an instant, just so some corporate overseer can save a few pennies on server space. Sites like the Internet Archive, excellent as they are, still cannot catalog everything; some of these articles are well and truly gone. 

Nevertheless, I've been unable to muster the same righteous indignation, as if this were an unimaginable loss. So much of what we—what I—produced was utterly frivolous and intentionally disposable, in a way that certain types of journalism have always been. The listicles and clickbait of early aughts culture may differ in many ways from the penny press tabloids of the 1800s, but in this, they are the same: They are meant to be thrown away. 

While some of MTV's old archives still survive, they can be difficult to unearth unless you have the precise URL where an article once lived. I was able to find some of my own old stuff preserved on an archived version of my MTV News author page, but only after an hour of scrolling through old versions of the site that resembled one of the crumbling dreamscapes from Inception, all dead links and broken images and blocks of HTML in a state of terminal decay. 

Here's the thing: Once I did, my first thought was to wonder why I'd bothered. 

As it turns out, there was very little gold in them thar hills of the 2010s media landscape. My work at MTV appears to have consisted mainly of clickbaity blog posts with titles like "Ben Affleck Seems To Have Gotten a Giant Divorce Tattoo," or "Game Of Thrones Has Spawned a Giant Gingerbread Landscape," or (and I swear I am not making this up) "7 Pic Pairs That Prove AnnaSophia Robb Is a Kitten Disguised As a Human Being." 

This is how it was, in a journalistic paradigm that favored quantity—and virality—over quality. 

If the media today is in existential crisis, this was arguably the moment when that crisis began. There had never been more people competing for fewer scraps, to the point where just getting paid to write was, itself, a coup of sorts. (A running joke amongst journalists at the time was how many so-called writing jobs came with no money at all. Instead, you were told, you would be paid in "exposure.") 

The magazines that used to pay $2 per word had collapsed en masse; so had the local news outlets, with the shoe-leather reporting jobs that had launched the careers of journalists in previous generations. Every outlet was trying to do more with less, which invariably meant less reporting, and more opinion, the latter being comparatively cheap to produce. 

For an enterprising writer, the most remunerative option was to turn into a one-man content machine, churning out ditzy blog posts and aggregated news stories for tens of dollars at a time. If you did enough of these, you could almost make a living, which may be why so many outlets made writers meet quotas that, as I recall, could be as much as 20 posts per day. 

This is not to underrate the distressing impact of MTV News being wiped from existence, especially for writers whose old articles might have been valuable for reasons beyond their contribution to the discourse. Having a portfolio of clips, even very stupid ones is, after all, how we get work. But how reasonable was it to think those archives would live forever? 

Long before the era of the news aggregator or the listicle in GIFs, "yesterday's news" was a euphemism for worthlessness for a reason, and disposability was built into the physical medium. Yesterday's newspaper was what you used to line a birdcage, or build a fire, or stuff your shoes to keep them from losing shape. Sure, the occasional paper might make it into a library archive, or onto a microfiche spool, but how diligent were those archival efforts? And how often has anyone even bothered to look at them since? 

But to acknowledge that digital media is just as disposable as its physical counterpart isn't just a blow to the egos of the people who make it. It also cuts hard against the common wisdom that the internet is forever—or indeed, that what is publicly posted online is not just permanent but important. This has long been a crucial subtext to the punitive culture of cancellation: To ruin someone's life over a ten-year-old tweet requires the conviction that said tweet is not just some ephemeral sentiment, but a personal artifact, capturing an essential truth about the character of the person who made it. 

Maybe it's better, actually, that this illusion of permanence be shattered. Maybe so much internet chatter—including what passed for journalism in the era of news being aggregated rather than reported—is less like a precious historical artifact, and more like the eighth-grade burn book that molders forgotten on a shelf in your childhood bedroom until your parents throw it away.

And maybe, when it comes to something like the archival content of MTV News, we can rely on a truth that predates the internet: that things worth preserving tend to be preserved, if not through the ubiquity of the mass market then through the discernment of individual people. Sometimes, even when doing so is against the law

Humans have always had the instinct—even a sort of sixth sense—to save things, whether it's an unpublished manuscript, a bootleg recording, a sheet of newsprint, or an old magazine with a particularly interesting story. This is true of digital content, too: The best articles of the internet era have a way of taking root and replicating, even if the publication where they originally appeared goes bust. They live on in archived snapshots, in forum discussions, on college syllabi, in PDFs printed out, or posted to Listservs. (Well, most of them do; my painstaking curation of kittens who look like actress AnnaSophia Robb somehow slipped through the cracks, but trust me, the resemblance was uncanny.)

It's kind of nice, actually. In an era where so much content is curated by algorithm, and where our archivists are as likely to be AI as human, the stories with the most staying power are still the ones some person, somewhere, thought were worth remembering. 

And the rest? Maybe it's not just forgettable, but also best forgotten.