Does Microsoft's divorce from NBC News/MSNBC herald liberal cable channel's separation from objective broadcast sibling?
Once upon a time, the contributions of NBC News to the content on the cable channel MSNBC was considered among its best assets.
But details emerging in the divorce of Microsoft and NBC News -- in which NBCNews.com becomes the broadcaster's news website and MSNBC.com eventually features the cable channel's offerings -- hints at a dividing of the liberal cable channel from the more objective broadcast news operation at a time when partisanship has never been higher in the media game.
Microsoft and NBC News teamed up to create the website and cable channel 16 years ago, with the website designers working from the software company's headquarters near Seattle and the cable channel operating in New Jersey and New York. According to the New York Times, Microsoft received $300-million to end the arrangement Sunday, which allows NBCNews.com and MSNBC.com to sell its own advertising (likely coupled with on air TV buys) while Microsoft can negotiate with other news providers for its MSN.com website.
Right now, the URL MSNBC.com redirects to the NBCNews site; later, the cable channel's website will more closely feature content from the channel, which increasingly leans liberal with outspoken pundit stars such as Rachel Maddow, Al Sharpton and Ed Schultz.
But what does that mean for the separation between NBC News and MSNBC -- where the tension between the broadcaster's more objective ethical rules and the opinionated success of the cable channel has made for some awkward moments?
Most recently, some critics noticed the odd dichotomy of Sharpton covering the controversy around the shooting death of unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin while serving as a spokesman for the family in its effort to have the shooter, George Zimmerman, prosecuted by police. In the past, pundits Keith Olbermann and Joe Scarborough were suspended from giving money to political candidates without approval from NBC News -- a violation of the broadcaster's ethical codes.
Separating the cable channel's online offerings from the broadcaster's websites -- where the cable channel always seemed like an underdeveloped stepchild, anyway -- will allow NBC to develop news identities for two of its core products online that are distinctly different.
But such efforts, if they result in a more opinionated website, will also increase the pressure for MSNBC to separate from NBC News on TV, where employees of the more objective news operation such as Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell still host shows.
Besides finally proving that its a bad idea for news outlets to outsource their online operations, this divorce between Microsoft and NBC News may also loosen the reins of objectivity on MSNBC -- at least online.
And that may not be a great idea, at least from the standpoint of media critics who like to see NBC News assets boost MSNBC's content, on television and online.