Aquick news quiz: Who tracked down drummer King Coffey for comment the day his friend Kurt Cobain, the 27-year-old lead singer of the band Nirvana, killed himself? (Those cutting edge reporters at MTV News? No--the Dallas Morning News.) Who interviewed Lori Goldston, the cellist who tours with the Seattle band? (Those hip music insiders at MTV News? No--the New York Times.) Who resorted to one of the lamest journalistic tricks in the book and nabbed a couple of music reporters--one a former staffer--to think aloud on air? (You got it--MTV!)
Cobain's death gave MTV News, which made its name with youthoriented coverage of the 1992 presidential race, a chance to showcase its spot newsgathering abilities. The results were disappointing.
Some observers, such as critic David Bianculli of the New York Daily News, made the analogy between MTV's Cobain coverage and CNN's reputation-building reporting on the Persian Gulf War. Michael Shore, MTV News' editorial supervisor, prefers to compare its coverage to that of JFK's assassination because of its sudden, dramatic nature.
Unfortunately, there was no comparison in either case. Following the discovery of Cobain's body on Friday, April 8, MTV broke into its programming repeatedly with the same two hours of material: recycled features on Nirvana, interviews with two writers (including band biographer and former MTV News staffer Michael Azerrad) who were uniformly upbeat even in discussing Cobain's heroin addiction, and, of course, plenty of videos. The package became a de facto video itself, playing relentlessly like a hit single.
There was little hard news beyond the police report details recited by anchor Kurt Loder in the first hours of coverage, and little apparent success at finding any. In Seattle, reporter Tabitha Soren had nothing to add besides interviews with grieving fans.
Shore says MTV was hampered by limited resources (it has a news staff of 20) and logistical problems, but notes it did score a coup when Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, phoned Loder early Saturday. …