Tip o’ the Week 436 – I read the News today


Oh boy. clip_image001Sometimes, the news is so troubling that you wonder if it’s worth trying to keep up-to-date at all, and instead only read and watch the stuff you know you’re interested in, that you’re going to like. This is the dichotomy of online news – since the dawn of the widely-used web, the end of the traditional news media as we know it (and particularly, print) has been forecast. Editorial skill gives way to sensationalism so as to attract the reader’s eye: headline writers have been doing this for years, but in an ad-funded online world, the need to turn eyeballs into clicks is even worse.

The upside of snacking on a smörgåsbord of news sources is that the reader gets to choose the topics (and the providers of content too), so they can filter out the rubbish they’re not interested in, excluding the media outlets they don’t want to read. The flipside, of course, is that confirmation bias will tend to guide people to read and watch stuff that reinforces their existing opinions; so they’ll pick sources of news according to their political beliefs, and may not read about topics they know nothing about, to the detriment of balanced reporting of “news”.

Anyway, news apps are one of the most used categories on mobile devices – rather than shuttling around between several web sites, aggregator apps consolidate the content and can alert the reader to breaking news.

Google has a News app for iOS and Android, and is investing in AI technology to help curate compelling packages of news content that people don’t necessarily know they want to read. Apple has their own app, for fruity devices only, not as widely available and not quite as curated.

Meanwhile, MSN News has been around for years, too, both as a service that shows tiles on the Edge browser’s start page and the MSN.com site, and as apps for Windows, iOS and Android. Well, the whole thing is getting a rebrand and the back end is being sharpened up; see coverage here, and here, and the official announcement.

The Windows version of MSN News is still known as such in the Store, though clip_image003once installed (as it is by default), it’s simply “News”. If you sign in with your Microsoft Account, you can select specific topics and sources, and those preferences will be stored and roam across other devices.

clip_image005Mobile versions are available from Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play, and offer the same kind of news customisation experience if you also sign in with your MSA. The naming convention can be a little clip_image007confusing… but at least the “Microsoft” name doesn’t get in the way of the app when it’s installed, as it’s just listed as “News”.

There’s a light or dark theme, and the content is displayed clearly and it’s easy to navigate by swiping left or right; the “My News” category is a summary of the categories you like, whereas “Top Stories” is curated by an editorial news team rather than using AI alone. Much is made of the partnerships established with the real news sources that provide the content, and it’s probably the Microsoft News service’s biggest strength.

clip_image009The personalisation of the mobile apps function much the same as the Windows one; various categories of your choice presented in summary and with the ability to flick between them at your leisure, though the clickbait sponsored stories (which are clearly labelled SPONSORED and showing the source) still rankle a bit.

Even without the warning in the headline, it’s pretty easy to spot sponsored content; headlines like Content Providers Are Furious About This… Something You Don’t Need Exciting People In <town you’re not in>, Hotels Don’t Want You To Know About This Secret Discount Trick, etc, etc.

If any “story” Capitalises Every Headline Word, Even Mundane Ones… then maybe don’t open it. Still, the funding collected from sponsored stories is shared with the real news sources that provide the actual content, so it pays for everything else.

If you don’t like the news presented in one app, then try another – like weather apps, it never does any harm to have a few on the go, so you can find something that makes you feel better.

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