EDITOR’S NOTE: We regret to inform our readers that this article contains some factual errors. It inaccurately referred to ASME awards, instead of ASME finalists. Jessica Hopper is the editorial director of music at MTV News, not Dan Fierman’s deputy. MTV News published several news briefs related to Kanye West’s stated support for Donald Trump, coverage that constitutes more than remaining “mostly silent.”
We contacted MTV News for an interview with Fierman or Hopper several months ago and were rebuffed. But closer to publication, we failed to reach out to them again to respond to specific claims made by this article. This lapse falls short of our reporting standards, and we apologize to our readers and the subjects of the story.
Finally and most importantly, we are aware of the discussions on social media and elsewhere related to the characterization of MTV News writers, and we take seriously the responses to the article as they relate to our work in the future. When we published this article, our intention was to challenge evolving media norms—not to hurt or diminish other journalists. We also asked the writer, Wei Tchou, to respond. She replies:
I’m writing to address several passages of my essay, published last Friday, about MTV News and its writers. My piece characterized the new hires at the company as “a range of high-profile writers who largely fit into one of two categories: alumni of establishment publications (Brian Phillips from Grantland, Jamil Smith from The New Republic, Ana Marie Cox from The New York Times Magazine), and young activist-writers entrenched in identity politics (Ezekiel Kweku, Doreen St. Félix, and Ira Madison III),” and claimed that writers on the site mostly create “superficial riffs on identity politics.” Many commentators found this a reductive and an unfair characterization of the writers in question. I’m afraid they’re right.
My intent in juxtaposing the two groups was to highlight the differences between generations of writers—those who started out before a social-media presence was an important part of a writer’s portfolio, and the younger writers who came after. My references to identity politics were meant to be neutral readings of a portion of the work they do for MTV News. Yet it’s clear that my remarks about the commodification of diversity came across as an attack on the ideal of diversity. That was not my intention, or my belief. And by reducing these writers’ bodies of work to a few statements, my piece diminished the range and value of their writing. I apologize to these and other writers slighted in my piece.
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In the fall of 2015, in an office building in lower Manhattan, Dan Fierman, the newly hired editorial director of MTV News, delivered a scathing PowerPoint presentation to his inherited staff of around 30 editors, writers, and Web producers. It amounted to a lesson in what they were doing wrong, less strategy than ruthless critique. Fierman objected to their limited Web presence (they needed podcasts), their content (they should be “hungry” rather than “thirsty”—an opaque description that a former employee surmised had to do with the distinction between hot takes and long-form prestige journalism), and, lastly, to the staff itself (they needed more “big-name writers”). Somewhere in the middle of his lecture, a curious slide appeared—one presumably intended for his corporate bosses and not his editorial team. It suggested that the brand pare down to essential staff. The obvious questions flashed in the minds of the people in the room: What would happen to the nonessential employees? Which am I?