Microsoft this week cut dozens of full-time staffers from its MSN news service, many of them in senior positions, in a move further away from human editors and toward using artificial intelligence to curate stories.
The move comes six weeks after the Redmond-based technology giant told about 50 news production contractors they would not be kept on by MSN beyond June 30. Full-time employees were spared from those cuts, but some MSN workers who were let go said domestic staffers and others globally were informed by conference calls Monday that, effective immediately, their services were no longer needed.
A Microsoft spokesperson acknowledged the company eliminated “a small number” of roles Monday across various departments, including MSN, but would not provide specific numbers. The spokesperson said the cuts are part of a redeployment of resources the company typically engages in during its new fiscal year — which began July 1 — and that it remains committed to news and content and MSN as a business moving forward.
One former employee cut Monday said the moves dramatically reduced the number of human editors handling content curation for the site.
There are still some employees overseeing the MSN.com homepage, the former staffer added, but mainly to avoid further gaffes like the one early last month right after the contractor cuts. The Guardian reported that the company’s AI software confused two mixed-race singers from the British band Little Mix — using the photograph of Leigh-Anne Pinnock to illustrate a story about Jade Thirlwall and her personal reflections on racism.
Thirlwall quickly voiced her displeasure on Instagram. “@MSN If you’re going to copy and paste articles from other accurate media outlets, you might want to make sure you’re using an image of the correct mixed race member of the group,” she wrote, adding: “It offends me that you couldn’t differentiate the two women of colour out of four members of a group … DO BETTER!”
Founded in 1995 as Microsoft Network, MSN since 2014 has moved away from original newsgathering, partnering instead with other news sites and paying them to redistribute their content. Curating the stories instead of generating them made it easier for Microsoft to shift away from human editors and to the algorithms.