Media Profile: Has he got on-line news for you - Geoff Sutton, editor, MSN News

One of Margaret Thatcher’s strengths as a politician was her ability to deal with irritating interviewers. They got handbagged. One of her weaknesses, however, was her inability to deal with the public when they asked her questions. When challenged on live TV by a teacher over the sinking of the Belgrano, for instance, she almost lost control and her careful veneer of invulnerability was stripped away. For politicians, therefore, this MSN News is going to be a right pain in the neck.

One of Margaret Thatcher’s strengths as a politician was her

ability to deal with irritating interviewers. They got handbagged. One

of her weaknesses, however, was her inability to deal with the public

when they asked her questions. When challenged on live TV by a teacher

over the sinking of the Belgrano, for instance, she almost lost control

and her careful veneer of invulnerability was stripped away. For

politicians, therefore, this MSN News is going to be a right pain in the

neck.



MSN News is the new on-line news element of the Microsoft Network,

available through channel 1 of the service’s five channels to Windows 95

users at the push of a button and the rest of us if we subscribe. The

news channel is dedicated to the election for the next few weeks and

last week gave its users the chance to grill technology minister Ian

Taylor live. It made Taylor sweat, but it delighted MSN News’ editor

Geoff Sutton.



’This is what digital democracy is all about,’ he enthuses. ’When you

get politicians face-to-face with the voters they go to pieces. They all

know how to handle Paxman but they can’t take ordinary people. We plan

to do a lot more of this after the Taylor chat. To start off with

they’ll all be text interviews, but as technology progresses, we’ll

hopefully have full audio and even full video links.’



Sutton came to MSN News after years on the newsdesks of most of Fleet

Street’s finest tabloids and it’s no surprise that his service is taking

such a combative approach. He loves the cut and thrust of news, moving

from the news editor’s job on the Sunday Express to news editing Today

in 1994 because he missed the thrill of a daily. There was only one step

further he could take and he’s taken it - MSN updates news

continuously.



’We have a slightly different agenda to most newspapers,’ he

explains.



’For instance, we are far bigger on technology issues as you’d

expect.



We went big on the Piers Merchant bonking scandal as did everyone else,

but we followed it up with pieces on homeless voting and the way the

Internet could affect the outcome of an election.’



Sutton joined MSN News at launch in October 1996 and he plans to lead it

through the tumultuous changes ahead. When the election is over, it will

return to the news, sport and current affairs magazine approach it has

fostered since start up. The next developments will be

technological.



He is likely to exploit the potential for audio further and wants to

sort out on-line video pictures.



’The service is great for still pictures at the moment but video takes a

painfully long time to download,’ he explains. ’There are going to be

developments in that area and, when it happens, we’ll probably have to

increase our current staff of nine to deal with it.’



In the meantime, Geoff is going to miss the election once it’s over.



For a man who is steeped in the rumbustious tabloid style, he’s rather

enjoyed getting up people’s noses. ’We’ve had so many people e-mailing

us and saying we’re biased in favour of the Tories,’ he laughs. ’And

just as many saying they can’t believe howbeta pro-Labour we are. That

means we must be doing something right.’



HIGHLIGHTS

1990

Reporter, Daily Mirror

1993

News editor, Sunday Express

1994

News editor, Today

1996

Associate news editor, Daily Mail

1996

Editor, MSN News



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