As came to light earlier this week, Microsoft has decided to lay off some of its contract writers for MSN and slash its budget for freelance writers. According to a Reuters story, the layoffs and budget slashing “could affect more than 100 people in all.” As the Reuters story also notes, the decision comes “just two months after Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced a radical reorganization of the company, which is only now starting to take effect.”
While contractors and freelancers - who are (were) responsible for writing and editing for the news and entertainment portals - are feeling the brunt of the cost-cutting move, Microsoft told the Seattle Times that the plan is to expand the number of full-time MSN employees in the future. However, no further details on that aspect of Microsoft’s master plan have been revealed at this time.
How substantial is the freelance budget cut going to be? Apparently, about as substantial as a budget cut can be.
According to an MSN memo to freelancers published by Romensko:
Unfortunately, I am writing you to let you know that effective 10/1/2013 our freelance budget has gone away entirely. I wish I could say it’s been lowered substantially and we’d just be reducing the work we are doing, but to be honest, it has been taken away and is at $0 for the remainder of the fiscal year.
The memo also characterizes the changes at Mircrosoft as a “restructuring plan to move from being a software company to a services and devices company,” that includes a new VP “overseeing all online services,” with a “vastly different vision for our Web site than anything in the past 15 years.”
Naturally, the situation has led to unease and confusion amongst the ranks of current and former MSN contractors and freelancers. Seattle Weekly reached out to one such former freelancer, who requested anonymity because they still hope to work for the company in some capacity in the future. The source tells us that right now there seem to be more questions than answers.
“I’m still being told that some freelance work may survive the purge, but I’ve yet to get an assignment or see an accepted pitch,” the source told Seattle Weekly. “Confusion all around. No one at the non-executive-level really seems to know what’s going on and mixed messages are flying left and right.”
Interestingly, recently let-go MSN news chief Stephen Cvengros has apparently landed on his feet, becoming the new vice president of content for the Syracuse Media Group.