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Microsoft cuts dozens of staff as it shifts to AI for MSN news stories

Automation is affecting journalism.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
May 30, 2020
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Chinese media arrive for the launch the MSN China, a Chinese-language Web portal, during a ceremony in Beijing, 26 May 2005.  The MSN portal with content provided by Chinese partners, will tap deeper into the world s second-largest Internet market, with about 100 million Internet users and the number is growing.       AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read AFP/AFP via Getty Images)
AFP/AFP via Getty Images

Workforce automation is about to cost dozens of news contractors their jobs. The Seattle Times and The Guardian report that Microsoft is letting go of dozens of news contractors (about 50 in the US, 27 in the UK) after June 30th due to a shift to AI news production on MSN. The workers were responsible for choosing, editing and curating stories. People employed full-time by Microsoft will stay at the company.

In a statement to the Times, Microsoft said it “evaluate[s] our business on a regular basis” like most companies and that this could involve “re-deployment.” It stressed that the contractor job cuts were “not the result of the current pandemic.”

The concept of AI choosing and even writing news isn’t new. However, this is a real-world case where jobs at a major site have been affected. The question is whether or not the heavier automation will be effective. One affected person talking to The Guardian was concerned the AI might inadvertently violate “strict editorial guidelines,” such as keeping violent material out of immediate view. This is as much an expanded test of AI as it is a practical measure to cut costs.

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