MTV @ 30 :: A Discussion With John Norris

MTV turned 30 last month. Last week AD's J Neas looked back at the legacy of network and its place in pop culture. He also spoke with one of the more recognizable faces of MTV's news department, former MTV News anchor and reporter John Norris. Having spent close to two decades with the network, Norris shares how his relationship began with the network, his own favorite moments, how MTV News became one of the network's bright spots and what the channel's move away from music meant for the pop culture landscape.

Aquarium Drunkard: First off, tell me a bit about your background at MTV. When did you start working there?

John Norris: I started working there in the late 80s. I was an intern for a couple of years before I became a part-time and then full-time employee. The internship began in '86 and I was getting paid in some fashion around '88 or '89. I wasn't fully staffed until 1990. I wasn't full-time on camera until late '90, '91. I left at the very end of '08.

AD: Did you have a journalism background coming in to work with MTV?

JN: I did. I was a broadcast journalism major at NYU. Music had always been a passion and I had worked at the radio station at NYU and then interned at another radio station that led to my internship at MTV. In the late 80s, there were still a lot of people just getting into MTV and discovering it.

AD: By the time you started your internship and were working with the news department, was MTV News taken seriously?

JN: Well, 'seriously,' is relative. You could argue whether it was ever really taken seriously. When Kurt [Loder; MTV News anchor] came on, that sort of gave it some gravitas. He had a print background. He had just done the Tina Turner book at the time. The first few years of MTV, it was called "Music News," not MTV News. It consisted of little more than tour dates and album news and interviews. I wasn't part of it then. The VJs did the news until they hired Kurt. And I think they all traded off doing the news. Hiring Kurt was a big step. They really wanted to make the news department into something more substantive and it took off from there. The '90s were when they expanded beyond music and movies and pop culture into Choose or Lose and some of the more pro-social stuff. That was all done through the news department.

AD: From my perspective, being as old as MTV basically, what I consciously remember is that the moment the news department really seemed to take off was the '92 Choose or Lose with the Clinton election and the famous town hall interview and all that.

JN: Yeah, and that was certainly about MTV being more proactive about really doing something different and offering a different type of political coverage for young people, but it also had to do with Bill Clinton being so suited for that kind of coverage.

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