July’s homepage mailbag

Posted by Ian
Easily the biggest event on the homepage in July was Live Earth. You can’t have missed it; aside from coverage of the concert itself, we ran a series of tie-in articles and environmental features to further explain, articulate and popularise ideas behind the initiative.
A lot of you were puzzled by this. Live Earth prompted the most comments and also complaints last month, much of them arising from bemusement at MSN’s involvement. In retrospect the reason for the quantity of our coverage was perhaps not sufficiently clear. We should have found better ways to highlight Microsoft’s participation as both a sponsor and online broadcaster. This might have helped address the concerns behind such responses as: "Your climatic change focus becomes more and more hysterical. Although politically correct, it is scientifically unfounded, like the hysteria about forest death and the ozone hole some years ago. As one of the media contibuting most to stir up uninformed peoples’ fear, you should be ashamed."
Neither did we demonstrate the greatest of consistencies worldwide. "On your Dutch site," noted one correspondent, "Leonardo DiCaprio is cited as number 2 or 3 in the most polluting celebrities, and on another site it says he is fourth in the best ‘green’ celebs. Which is it today???" In the future, greater co-ordination and co-operation will be applied to covering international events across all of MSN’s sites. A good example will be the 2008 Olympics, planning for which is already underway.
"How hypocritical is it to have a climate in crisis website sponsored by Chevy, who make some of the biggest gas guzzlers in the world?" asked one visitor. "Gas guzzling American lumps!" added a second. "You post, on the Live Earth site, the list of the five most polluting cars, and there it is, the number one polluting car is produced by GM, which also happens to produce Chevy. Great for your credibility!" chimed in a third. There were lots more. This was an embarrassing conjunction of apparently contradictory stances. My understanding is that General Motors *are* taking environmental issues seriously…somehow…but again, this wasn’t made clear enough on the site. It looked bad. Sorry.
Other comments referred to the event itself and reflected a good deal of contemporaneous press coverage. "Surely the electricity being used and the man hours/traffic carbon emission produced to set up this concert, outweigh the need for it to go ahead!" observed one. "Why oh why on your celebration of Live Earth on the Virtual Map of venues does the dialogue box have a DRIVE TO/FROM invitation!!!!! Please practice what you preach; otherwise good reading," said another.
Yes, there is a degree of illogic in trying to raise ecological awareness by staging an event that will itself do damage to the environment. But when it comes to certain contentious causes, sometimes you have to shout uncomfortably loud before people will take notice. And too many powerful political forces have too many vested interests for the world to be saved overnight. As one correspondence rued, "If global warming is such a problem, and flying is so bad for our earth, then WHY don’t governments of all the countries forbid flyshows like the Red Bull Air Race or shows from the Air Forces? It’s not necessary, it’s great to look at, but has absolutely no use and it’s bad as hell. Live Earth is a good thing, but consider these things."
Despite first impressions, July’s postbag wasn’t filled solely with Live Earth criticism. A run of features examining alternatives to products such as the iPhone and the iPod led to a few of you accusing us of shameless Microsoft-imposed anti-Apple bias. "Well that’s great!" complained one, "another anti-Apple rant, this time about the iPod and not the iPhone, from the fine company that is Microsoft. The article on your homepage indicates that the iPod is lethal in that it can be struck by lightning. Is this only the case because more people have iPods than any other music player? So I suppose the Zune can protect you from being struck by lightning can it? How about geting an STI? Or even a girlfriend?"
"Do people not realise that Microsoft just happens to be Apple’s biggest rival?" added another. "Your website promotes the lack of trust within the BBC, but cannot even produce a website not slurred by greed. Do us a favour, stop being biased."
Even though MSN has always made a point of critiquing Microsoft products and trying to treat rival products impartially, we have had a run of, if not anti-Apple, then certainly anything-but-Apple articles of late. I’ve spoken to Patrick, our Tech and Gadgets editor, about this, and you should see a better balance of tone and content in the future.
As for this – "Stop writing about RSS and Silverlight and bloody think about the people for a minute!" – I’m tempted to say: hear hear!
As ever, a number of you were quick to email us with mistakes and typos on the homepage, which we’re always happy to hear about (honest!). Among the goofs were claiming Peter Kay had just turned 34 when he was still 33; talking of the smoking ban "taking affect" instead of "taking effect"; asking the question "which Spurs striker’s…" when we should have said "which Spurs strikers’…"; and erroneously insisting the bird with the largest wing span is the pelican, not the Wandering Albatross, and incorrectly listing the mammal with the largest brain as the elephant not the blue whale. Apologies to one and all.
Adverts remains a problem for some of you. One person wrote in to say: "I dislike the plethora of advertisements on your site. Every advertisement that I see, unless I regard them as of a particular quality, I am noting on my PDA with the date. Every time I go shopping, I and my extended family will NOT buy anything on my list for at least one year, and if the same product is re-advertised, then I may never ever buy it!! Note that not one advertisement has reached my standard!"
Lastly, several people were concerned with the website giving out what could be collectively be referred to as mixed signals.
A feature about the danger of drinking too much water prompted one person to complain: "This article sends out confusing messages. A thousand times we have been told to drink a lot of water and exercise regularly. This article only causes health scares over perfectly normal things, and could be used as an excuse not to do exercise. Tosh." We are guilty, I think, of facing both ways on the homepage, and it’s something we’re working hard to cut down on.
"Your choice of using a burning Union flag as a picture is very unfortunate and insensitive," wrote another. Actually the image was not of a burning Union flag, but of someone holding a Union flag in front of a bonfire. Flag-burning is – thankfully – not an offence in this country, but given the potency of the symbolism we’d think very hard before depicting it ambiguously on the homepage.
"If I see one more picture of Naff, i.e. Posh, Spice on my MSN homepage," complained a third, "it will be my homepage no longer. Why do you assume we are all cretins and are interested in this dross." We don’t, which is why we try and make sure the homepage always boasts dozens of different stories and items as well as the latest celebrity and entertainment news.
"I was disappointed that an article ‘Why one man ditched the train’ turned out to be an ad for a motor car," ran another email. "That was a very cheap trick and has resulted in my not bothering to click on any more ‘articles’." We actually spent a great deal of time trying to decide the right way to promote this article and the correct choice of wording. We should have spent a bit more.
"Your headlines are just factually incorrect," concluded one correspondent. "’UK extreme weather?’ We have always had unstable weather, like frost in May!" True, and I got into a bit of bother for saying as much on this very blog.
To end with, a comment that, perhaps thankfully for our sake, fails to name names: "Whoever wrote the title for this page has verbal diarrhoea!" 
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