January’s homepage mailbag

Posted by Ian
 
More of you sent us feedback in January than in any previous month.
 
A hefty portion of those comments concerned Celebrity Big Brother; not just the manner in which MSN reported on the show, mind, but the show itself. Indeed, the latter hugely outweighed the former, with dozens of you taking the opportunity to sound off about the nature of the programme’s apparent (or not) depiction of racial abuse. Such comments aren’t really the preserve of this particular round-up, concerned as it is more with addressing issues relating directly to the MSN homepage. You can either sample or relive the kind of debate whirled up by Celebrity Big Brother here.
 
One rather more pertinent topic, meanwhile, was – once more – the way MSN depicted the United Kingdom. Or not, as the case may be. "Yet again it seems MSN do not know what makes up the UK," complained one correspondent. "You ran a news headline about a shake-up of the UK education system, but the story was just about England. In Scotland we have, and have had for hundreds of years, a separate system."
 
"Your news and sport content," protested another, "is dominated by England or US stories. There is little or no coverage for other parts of the UK". "What about a Scottish version of your homepage," quipped a third. "It appears to be all English sport (usually football) and English news with a rich English bias. Microsoft should remember it has customers in Scotland and we have our own Football League (the champions of which are playing the USA MSL Select team this summer!). We also have our own parliament."
 
These three correspondents all have fair points. The homepage is too England-centric, a fault chiefly (though not solely) due to the fact our news and sport headlines are supplied automatically from companies with headquarters all based in, you guessed it, London. It’s not good enough, however, to simply blame third parties. We need to be far more sensitive to regional bias. Running articles examining the state of the Union is one thing; projecting and reflecting a truly national identity is another. We can and will try harder.
 
"Why not take the moral high ground," asked another visitor to the website, "and do as some of the newspapers are doing: stop buying photos of Kate Middleton and stop publishing them. Don’t be part of creating another Diana, please!"
 
This referred to a photo gallery that was promoted on the homepage the very day the News International group of newspapers (The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times and The News Of The World) announced they would stop publishing images of Ms Middleton taken by paparazzi photographers. The timing was coincidental, but sent out an unfortunate message, not least that The News Of The World appeared to be occupying a higher moral ground than MSN. In fact, the only pictures which appeared in our gallery were those taken of Ms Middleton at public engagements and events; in other words, photos not technically classed as the work of paparazzi. Still, the juxtaposition of the news story and the gallery was awkward. We need to review the way we promote articles and galleries featuring private citizens who just happen to have temporary links with the royal family.
 
One particular sponsored feature which was given prominent homepage coverage in January also prompted complaints citing a conflicting agenda. Indeed, it sparked an atypically large volume of correspondence, some of a quite personal nature. As such we’re reconsidering the way we incorporate these kinds of features amongst the rest of our wholly editorial articles. We need to find a way of not misleading visitors to the site into assuming sponsored pages are the same as those representing original content.
 
"What happened to the 1980s video section?" asked one correspondent. "I was upset when you took it off." Sadly this particular feature of MSN Video was dependant on a contract with a record company which recently came to an end, so the section had to go. There are still some classic music videos to be found within the site, though obviously nowhere near as many as before. We’ll do our best to give them some exposure on the homepage as well.
 
A recent image used in the Travel section at the bottom of the homepage prompted one person to write and say: "The picture of two passenger aircraft crisscrossing each others’ paths within a few hundred feet of each other was frightening and disconcerting to those who do not appreciate that this picture was produced by using software to merge two photographs together. MSN are guilty of putting fear into people who would otherwise think that aeroplanes operate in a sane and rational way."
 
As far as it’s possible to tell, it looks like the image in question – which, if you choose, you can see in a larger size here – is not a composite and is actually an original photograph. All the same, it’s perhaps not the most tasteful or subtle way of illustrating a story about the hazards of air travel, at least on the homepage.
 
Over in Dictionary Corner, we hold our hands up to the person who noted "It isn’t ‘send less people to jail’, it’s ‘send FEWER people to jail’". This referred to a news headline about John Reid, the Home Secretary. We’re not prepared, however, to concede this one: "Your headline refers to ‘beauty dos and don’ts’. Surely that’s ‘beauty do’s and dont’s’? It isn’t, because the apostrophe is not a substitution for a missing letter. In the case of the word ‘don’ts’, the apostrophe is replacing the second letter ‘o’ from the phrase ‘do nots’. The word ‘dos’ might be a colloquial term but there are no missing letters, hence no apostrophe is needed. Grammar lesson over!
 
We appreciate your concern, however, as we do on all matters concerning the MSN homepage and about which all of you choose to share your views. Keep sending in your feedback.
 
To end with, some plain, unfussy, out-and-out abuse. "Do you have a home page for adults?" queried one person. "In other words, for someone who is over 12 years of age or with a double digit IQ. ’10 things for Posh to do in LA’? Like that will inform people and change the world!" "I don’t like your design," complained another. "It looks like something a 14-year-old composed."
 
And finally, the short and very to the point: "This is the worst page ever!"
 
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14 Responses to January’s homepage mailbag

  1. Unknown says:

    I beg to differ regarding \’do\’s and don\’ts\’. Technically and grammatically, you are indeed correct that \’do\’s\’ does not require an apostrophe. However, \’dos\’ just looks plain wrong, and an apostrophe tidies this up nicely.

    Moreover, Collins English Dictionary spells it as \’do\’s and don\’ts\’.

    While I\’m being pedantic, your Scottish correspondent might like to know that it\’s MLS (Major League Soccer), not MSL.

  2. Eleanor says:

    Such a strange language English – when you think the full phrase \’what to do and what not to do\’ can be replaced with \’do\’s and don\’ts\’
    yet still make sense!  I still reckon it is one of the most flexible languages known – even if it has taken something a beating in \’intellectual\’ quarters of late. Anyway, Bill Bryson likes it!
    As a total newcomer to this page I am sure that I shall find it very easy to give up a lot of my present television viewing habits. Having already taken some solace by returning to the good old radio I am now happier about keeping this, icreasingly confusing, computer \’on line\’. That confusion may, of course, be due to mere senile dementia rather than that , now in my seventies, I am a rather late starter but who cares – looks like a lot of fun ahead!

  3. Eleanor says:

    PS  Eleanor  ( the above \’no name\’ ) The Welsh language is even funnier – I\’ll get some stick for that – but that has lasted too!

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