Posted by Ian
9.10am Into the office. A few others are already in. There’s no fixed time for clocking on, though it’s expected – transport delays permitted – we should be here for 9.30am. Both BBC News 24 and Sky are earnestly and extensively reporting "no developments" in the foot and mouth outbreak.
9.25 Review the papers. Everyone takes one issue each and sifts the pages looking for recurring stories, topical obsessions, amusing quirkiness – that sort of thing. Foot and mouth isn’t the lead on every front page. Neither is Madeleine McCann. Instead the Independent notes how summer rain will boost the UK truffle harvest, the Times announces that Leeds is the most cost-effective place in Britain to study, the Guardian reveals how historical archives have exposed Winston Churchill’s true thoughts on immigrants, while the Daily Mirror has found a 100-year-old woman who works in a fish and chip shop. Meanwhile I start updating the two "live" sections of the homepage: the news headlines and the entertainment stories. There’s not much breaking news at present. I go for a couple of silly season headlines: ‘smoking ban sends texts soaring‘ and ‘levitation breakthrough proposed‘. They might flop. They might fly. I’ll know shortly.
9.45 My colleague Dom tells me the ‘Spider-pig’ song from The Simpsons Movie is now in the top 20. We ask James, our Music Editor, to write something about unlikely chart hits, which we’ll run this afternoon.
10.10 I’m not running a Madeleine story. Not at the moment, anyway. There are no new developments, the weekend’s activity did not lead anywhere, and I think there are other more topical stories warranting coverage.
10.25 How to make the latest Big Brother antics sound interesting? Me and Dom settle on the headline: ‘BB housemates in time travel turmoil‘. How long is this series going to last? There seem to be just as many contestants in the house as when the show started! Grrrr….
10.40 A story shows up on the wires about house prices. These seem to be ten-a-penny nowadays, and a lot of them tend to contradict each other (i.e. the housing market is set to boom/the housing market is about to crash/the housing market is holding steady…). This one, though, is off the back of a genuine report by the National Housing Federation. It goes on the homepage.
11.00 Our weekly planning meeting to sketch out as best we can what to run on the homepage during the next seven days. Should we lead with the start of the English Premiership on Saturday, Sunday or not at all? The football season has, after all, already started. We’ll do something along the lines of Premiership predictions on Friday. The Money writers have some foot and mouth-related articles in the pipeline which will help give our coverage a bit of substance. Another of their contributors is promising a feature on why carbon offsetting is a myth. This will have to be packaged as a ‘one person says…’ type of article, to avoid the impression post-Live Earth that MSN is endorsing contradictory stances. Over at Tech and Gadgets Patrick is planning an article that will help balance the ambiguous anti-Apple sentiments of some of his recent content. Our Health and Lifestyle writers, meanwhile, will be preoccupied merging their respective web pages into one site, and as such will be out of business for much of the week. This leaves us with something of a challenge, as we regularly rely on both those topics for a lot of our lead features.
Actually, our schedule for the week is shaping up to have a lot of gaps. Breaking news and special reports will fill some of the spaces. The others – well, we’ll have to do some serious head-scratching. And pleading.
11.50 Oh yes. ‘BB housemates in time travel turmoil’ is receiving more clicks from visitors than anything else on the homepage.
12.00pm Into another meeting. This is the big one, with as many editors present as it is possible to squeeze into one room. After a run through each sites’ statistics for the month so far (number of visitors, number of times those visitors have clicked on web pages etc.) we discuss the week ahead. Each editor picks out and discusses some of their highlights of the next seven days. It’s a chance for us, the homepage editors, to quiz the others in person about the articles they are offering. In turn they try to make a case to us as to the value of this or that feature. The conversation goes back and forth. Concerns are raised over the gaps in our schedule. Ed, the Movies Editor, mentions he has a clip from The Bourne Ultimatum. We’ll take a look.
12.50 That Bourne clip is actually just two people fighting. There’s no context. Nothing to lift it out of crude violence into something approaching excitement or imaginative entertainment. A tricky one. How to promote it – if at all?
1.15 ‘Smoking ban sends texts soaring’ and ‘Levitation breakthrough proposed’ are actually doing quite well, traffic-wise. They’ve certainly had more people clicking on them than the foot and mouth story.
1.40 The social networking lead feature is turning out to be the most popular ‘lead’ of the day. On a purely statistical basis, it’s far and away more popular than the jobs-themed one that was first up this morning, or the ‘cost of loving’ article that followed.
2.30 Some more Big Brother-related palaver. Apparently – and that’s a big ‘apparently’ – Charley and Chanelle have been approached to appear on the next series of Strictly Come Dancing. The source? The Daily Star. So it’s clearly true. But it goes on the homepage, with the suitably melodramatic headline ‘Charley & Chanelle in dancefloor duel?‘. Note the question mark.
2.50 It’s not a furious day for news. The foot and mouth story is unfolding in its own, stately way. Everyone is waiting for the verdict of the Health and Safety inspectors. In the meantime there have been a lot of wise words and idle speculation. At least there haven’t been any further outbreaks reported. It means, however, that the news headlines section on the homepage has taken on a rather static appearance. Little ‘new’ news is breaking – or rather, little that is worth clearing the decks for.
3.15 We’re not going to run that Bourne Ultimatum clip. Divorced from the context of the film, it’s meaningless. It’s also fairly gratuitous, akin to being a spectator at a playground scrap or pub brawl. Instead we’ll use a trailer for the whole film. Would you have made the same decision? Judge for yourself. The clip v the trailer?
3.40 Mid-afternoon mind-wanderings. A discussion breaks out about the singer Calvin Harris and his desire, announced on his MySpace page, for the nation to join together in holding millions of individual parties on the night of 18th August. Dom and Laura reveal themselves to be Calvin Harris fans – or rather, fans of his two "hits". I disagree. He sounds like he’s either singing like a girl or rapping his way through a shopping list. This MySpace business is one massive publicity stunt. Isn’t it?
4.30 There’s one of MSN’s occasional ‘In Concert’ events this evening. This is when footage of a prominent artist or band is simultaneously broadcast online across all the MSN sites around the world. Today it’s Bone Thugs-N-Harmony; not, perhaps, the most obvious or relevant of choices for the UK, but we can promote it off the back of the ‘In Concert’ archive and so, hopefully, drum up a bit of interest. The promotion is running as the second rotating ‘slide’ at the top of the homepage; later on I’ll switch them round so In Concert is first and social networking is second.
4.45 While the three of us – me, Dom and Laura – go about our respective regular business, talk can sometimes turn to unlikely matters. A conversation has just taken place inspired by an anecdote from Dom of how he once threw up on a Twister board after too much alcohol. The board was folded away without being cleaned, only to be opened up two years later with encrusted vomit intact. This incident didn’t, in fact, happen last week but when Dom was a teenager. Such is the manner in which quieter moments pass in MSN Towers.
5.10 It’s got to be the case that more people are reading about Big Brother than watching it. Hasn’t it? Whenever we’ve run a story about it on the homepage, more folk click on it than anything else on the site. Fact. Yet you don’t get the impression it’s as big a deal on television that it was, say, five or six years ago. Weird. It’s a TV show that enjoys its greatest success when it’s not on TV.
5.40 Almost time to clock off. What have been the day’s homepage successes and failures?
Social networking no-nos (thanks to Dom for coining this ace headline)
BB housemates in time travel turmoil (ditto)
Smoking ban sends texts soaring
Charley & Chanelle in dancefloor duel
Madge Malawi adoption not finalised (people are bored of Madonna, clearly)
A day in the life of MSN (ah, the irony)
Bourne Ultimatum: the verdict’s in (buried too far down the page)
Sunglasses: the health risks (of no interest once the sun goes in)
Overall, a moderate day. Nothing did extraordinarily well, but enough features did well enough to keep plenty of traffic moving through the site (apologies for sounding like a car park attendant).
By the way, Dom now claims the Twister-vomit thing never happened. "It’s all lies," he insists, unconvincingly.
Posted by MSN Editor Coops
8.45 In addition to my daytime job editing MSN TV, I am now overseeing the MSN portal homepage. We have a rota system of MSN editors who volunteer to keep things ticking out of office hours: it’s my turn this week. I will take you into the evening and wee hours, completing the blog entry Ian started entitled ‘Today. As It Happens…’
Thanks to the useful summary of what hasn’t quite worked today, my first task is infinitely easier. I have updated the Entertainment module and replaced the Madge Malawi adoption story (yawn indeed) with the following item: Jack Bauer takes on global warming. I love the headline spun from this report about Twentieth Century Fox’s aim to make their hit show 24 ‘carbon neutral’. You’d be forgiven for thinking Jack’s gonna kick some carbon dioxide terrorist butt. And y’know what? I’d believe it if he did…
10.25 Whenever I’m rota editor, I find myself hoping for the world to stand still – I don’t want any major breaking news events. It may be good for traffic to the site, but it’s bad for leisure time. So far, so good; it’s a nice quiet Monday night. Never has the adage ‘ no news is good news’ sounded so apropos.
00.05 One last check and everything’s as it should be. The portal homepage has updated with new content including Breathtaking Britain (beautiful views highlighted), The Real Cost Of Foot and Mouth and Dream Drives (10 cars you thought you couldn’t afford). That’s it – my work here is done. And so to bed, Zebedee said. Boing, boing! A little retro reference for all you Magic Roundabout fans. Hope you’ve enjoyed this snapshot of a day at MSN. G’night.