Microsoft Bing's approach to local news: If it bleeds, it leads

Local TV news has long lived by the maxim, "If it bleeds, it leads." It appears that Microsoft has decided that when it comes to local news on Bing, that's also the path to success, at least when it comes to Massachusetts. Check out Bing's local Massachusetts news, and you'll find plenty of tabloid news -- at least I did when I tried it out.

When you go to Bing and click News, you're taken to a national news page. On the right-hand side of the page, you'll see a link to local news, if Bing has been able to figure out your geographic location. You can click the Change location link to choose to see local news from any state.

I've been checking the Massachusetts news on Bing the last few days, and typical among the top headlines are these: "Pervert puts Boxford on edge," and "Grandmother's body found in pond." Then there was the story about the Cape Cod police officer who was fired because he was alleged to have texted a photo of "male genitalia" to a woman last summer.

Why does Bing highlight these stories, while ignoring important news like the senatorial special election to replace Ted Kennedy? Because its exclusive news provider for the entire state of Massachusetts is the Boston Herald, a tabloid that revels in crime and sleaze, while often ignoring real news.

I compared it to the local news at Google News and found quite a contrast. At Google News I tracked "Massachusetts" for my local news and found...gasp!...actual news. The news was from multiple sources across the entire state and from outside the state, not just from one dying tabloid in Boston. There were articles from the Boston Globe, Worcester Telegram, New York Times, Bloomberg, and more.

I was able to read about a clash among candidates in the senatorial race to replace Ted Kennedy, an investigative piece showing that stimulus funds have been slow to arrive in the state, and a story about the state expanding veteran's benefits. There was even a piece from the Boston Herald, and tellingly, it wasn't tabloid news, but instead an article about the Boston Chamber of Commerce touting the state's innovation.

No stories about perverts in Boxford. None about police officers texting pictures of male genitalia. No grandmas found deep-sixed.

It's not clear why Microsoft is aligning itself with the Boston Herald's tabloid approach to news. I wouldn't think that mouth breathers and people who sleep with police scanners by their bedsides are Bing's target market or the sweet demographics spot for those interested in local news in Massachusetts.

My guess is that part of Bing's business plan is to find a single provider for local news in each state, and in Massachusetts it could cut the best deal with the Boston Herald. But if Bing is going to be a competitor to Google, it's going to have to do better than that. Google News, despite some problems, is an excellent online news aggregator, and even lets you track news down to your zip code. With the local news at Bing, you're stuck with "If it bleeds, it leads," or at least you are in Massachusetts.

So I'm still staying with Google News. I'll bet that plenty of others will, too.

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