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Microsoft axes freelancers, contract writers at MSN

The Microsoft logo is seen at their offices in Bucharest March 20, 2013. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel
The Microsoft logo is seen at their offices in Bucharest March 20, 2013. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp is laying off dozens of contract and freelance writers from its MSN news and entertainment portal as the giant software company seeks to reshape itself as a devices and services company.

A spokesperson for the company confirmed the layoffs but declined to specify the number or comment further. A person familiar with the situation said the cuts could affect more than 100 people in all.

The pruning of MSN writers, who contribute end edit columns, blogs and features to the site, comes just two months after Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced a radical reorganization of the company, which is only now starting to take effect.

Microsoft's online services unit, chiefly consisting of the Bing search engine and MSN portal, is in line for a shake-up as it has never been profitable and has lost almost $3 billion in the last two years alone. Some investors have pressed for a sale of the unit.

MSN was merged with Bing Apps, which also produces news, weather and other content, in the July reorganization under new head Brian MacDonald.

While MSN is cutting its contractor budget, it is also planning to increase spending on full-time employees, MacDonald told the Seattle Times and later confirmed to Reuters, without giving any further details.

The MSN site has been stagnating for the past year, with its U.S. monthly unique visitors stuck at about 116 million, while the more popular Yahoo Inc and AOL Inc portals are growing faster, according to figures from industry research firm Comscore.

Microsoft beefed up its MSN news operation only a year ago in preparation for the launch of Windows 8. The company wanted to grow its ability to generate online content after last summer's sale of its 50 percent stake in news website MSNBC.com to longtime partner NBCUniversal, now majority-owned by Comcast Corp.

The shift away from using freelance writers means MSN will likely rely more on external sources such as NBC, Associated Press and Thomson Reuters.

(Reporting by Bill Rigby; editing by Andrew Hay)

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