August monthly mailbag

Posted by Laura
August’s homepage feedback comments, in sympathy with the inclement mood of the UK’s summer climate, made for grey reading that would dampen the spirits of the most thick-skinned editor.
It was a month clouded by accusations of bias and banality, with showers of comments about minor inaccuracies and errors. Now the month is over and we have weathered the storm, it’s time to look back at what we could have done differently, and address the main concerns and criticisms raised by you, our users, during the past four weeks.
First up are comments about the news elements of the homepage. “When do you update your site in the morning?” asked one user.  “It’s now 07.00‚ and some of us get to the office early‚ but your home page still has yesterday’s news.”
Another added: “You are very late with the news each day. I have heard it or read it somewhere long before you print it.”
Before I briefly explain the processes in place to update news on the homepage, I would like to defend our position on breaking news. Due to the nature of the web, we are able to break stories that happen during the day often long before most of the national newspapers. Last month we published news of the interest rate decision, Big Brother evictees and dramatic pictures of the Minnesota bridge collapse, among several other news events, ahead of many of our rivals.
Now for how our news channel works: our newsdesk and out-of-hours team is small, therefore the channel is powered by feeds from providers PA, Reuters and ITN. These are switched on overnight so the latest stories will appear on the homepage throughout the night and in the morning. We have experienced a number of delays in the feeds updating this month, which has impacted on the homepage team’s ability to get the very latest articles on the site as quickly as we would like to. However, we are working hard to iron out these technical issues and look at ways of minimising the effects of them.
The homepage faced numerous accusations of bias during the month, from charges of being misandrous; “Why is the MSN homepage always biased against men? It seems to me that the whole page is sexist”, and being too England-centric; “While reading about how the weather will change for the UK I am disgusted to see that Scotland does not feature. Is it not part of the UK anymore? I thought it was!” to finally reaching the vociferous climax of being biased against, well, almost everything: “Full of English s*** and cricket. You wouldn’t know how to relate to the regions of the UK if it hit you with an American baseball in the face. Big Brother [rubbish]‚ totally biased… maybe someone someday will design a site that caters for all – not just the big money-earners and England and cricket.” Phew!
Starting from the beginning, we have made a concerted effort to put both male and female viewpoints across and feature an equal amount of articles that will be of interest across, particularly with dating content, which in the past has tended to attract criticism.
The news and homepage team is a 50/50 split of men and women, and we hope this is reflected in the content we use. However, the article that prompted the first comment, although seeking to be lighthearted in its approach, managed to offend with its headline “Words that will get guys slapped”.
The correspondent argued: “Would you ever write an article about three little words that would get a woman slapped?  You seem to think its ok for women to hit a man? That somehow a man must be careful or be slapped.  Maybe you should write article about women‚ what not to say to upset men.” Although the headline was not intended to be taken literally, the point has been noted.
As for showing the man’s perspective, we did run an article on “words men don’t want to hear” on the same day in order to achieve a balance.
With reference to the accusation of neglecting Scotland and other UK nations, we do try to reflect the diversity of our audience as much as possible and balance this with the stories that you, are users, are interested in. In this instance, Scotland was overlooked and we will be more mindful in future of how we represent the UK in such articles.
Now to address the third assertion: that not only is the homepage too England-centric, but somehow led by the US when it comes to news stories. The latter is a misapprehension. It is understandable that some may assume the team is based overseas because Microsoft is an American company, however, our main news feeds are UK-focused, as is our sport coverage, and all editors working on the portal are based at MSN’s offices in London. 
There were several factual inaccuracies we have to hold our hands up to. Apologies, firstly, for suggesting that Welsh footballer Gareth Bale could be a star of the England squad, as one user pointed out: “He is not the answer to England’s left-sided problems as he is Welsh and has played for Wales for over a year. Plus he’s wearing a Wales shirt in the picture.” Indeed. Thanks for bringing this to our attention – it was very swiftly rectified.
Another clanger highlighted by a keen-eyed reader will have those of you who learned their world capitals in class (as I did) smarting: “Please get your capital cities and countries right! Dhaka is not the capital of India but of Bangladesh.” Quite right. Once again, apologies. Please keep pointing these things out to us as we read the feedback daily and can often correct such errors in a matter of minutes.
And, finally, time for a glimmer of sunshine. After a few technical issues the ever-popular crossword is up and running once again. We appreciate the patience of all those puzzle fanatics who contacted us to ask for it to be updated.
What got you talking in August? Top 5 homepage news message board threads:
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5 Responses to August monthly mailbag

  1. Marti says:

     it is fine except a bore to have to use the arrow keys to read the whole of the page or do I need to reset some of my settings

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