Microsoft's vacuous new news portal
Oct 9, 2012

Microsoft's vacuous new news portal

Microsoft is undoubtedly hoping that its new news portal, to launch concurrently with Windows 8 and be heavily Metro UI based, will revolutionize our consumption of news. Or at least, that it will manage to carve out a nice chunk of the Internet news market for itself, especially given the break up of the long running MSNBC alliance. While it may well succeed in building an audience, and while the user interface it presents may indeed be appealing, any hopes of fundamentally altering our relationship to the news will not - and, indeed, cannot - happen.

The problem is the source. Microsoft plans to largely continue its operations on the MSN news site of syndicating AP and Reuters stories. As in, it is saying the same "news" that everybody else has. And it will hire a portfolio of perhaps a hundred journalists to cover sports and entertainment and the like that provides just enough unique stories to differentiate it from being a news wire clone, but only at the most superficial level.

Microsoft's new portal, if it is successful, will only be successful at pulling people away from what is likely already some other news wire syndicator to their news wire syndication, with the hopes that a flashier interface actually means something when it comes to consuming news. One might object that Microsoft is not a news company, it is a software company and its core competency comes from finding innovative ways to have us engage with the news (and any other content we might like), not to change what the news business itself actually is and what it covers (and doesn't cover). This is only partially true, for Microsoft has indeed been a core partner for a decade and a half in the news business. But even ignoring that, the net effect of this action is to grow the market share and prominence of the news wire model, with all the problems that are associated to such homogeneous vanilla news, laden with the biases intrinsic in the news wires.

My criticisms of the media are hardly constrained just to the news wires. A newspaper like The Washington Post suffers from significant biases and other problems that I have routinely documented on my blog, but at least they still do some genuinely independent journalism - even if it is rare - such as the brilliantly researched and important Top Secret America segment. While it is in decline, the aggregate of the mainstream newspapers still produces a volume of valuable news which much of the sometimes overly lauded "new media" (from Twitter to humble blogs like my own) critically depend. As other content portals, such as Microsoft's following the AP/Reuters model, grow in market share then the value of this investigative and original journalism goes down and is crowded out, which is the real loss.

Needless to say, for those interested in the kind of journalism that provides a unique and thought provoking critique of our society, unchained by the numerous institutional biases inherent in mainstream media, one would do best to steer well clear of Microsoft's latest foray into the news business. But hopefully readers of my blog knew that already.

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Robert said...

It's all about attracting new readers and viewers to MSN homepage.

Olya Olegovna said...
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