Verizon is acquiring AOL for $4.4 billion in cash. With it, comes AOL’s roster of media companies, including the Huffington Post, Engadget, and TechCrunch. But this isn’t the first time Verizon has owned a media company.
Back in 2014, the cable company launched SugarString, an in-house tech blog. But as the Daily Dot’s Patrick O’Neill wrote at the time, there was just one problem — it reportedly banned its reporters from covering certain topics including net neutrality and government surveillance.
These are, of course, issues that Verizon has a major corporate involvement in. The cable company responded that “unlike the characterization” of its editor, SugarString is open to all stories that “fit its mission.”
We first learnt about the site’s allegedly dubious editorial process when SugarString editor Cole Stryker tried to recruit O’Neill:
News of Verizon’s publishing venture and its strict rules first came to light to multiple reporters through recruiting emails sent last week by author and reporter Cole Stryker, who is now the editor-in-chief of SugarString. (Stryker has also previously contributed to the Daily Dot.) I was one of the reporters who received that email. The premise and rules behind the site were explained to me in a series of messages throughout the day. I declined the job offer.
Other reporters, who asked not to be named, have confirmed that they have received the same recruiting pitch with the same rules: No articles about surveillance or net neutrality.
Here’s the relevant quote from Srtyker’s initial email to O’Neill:
Downside is there are two verbotem topics (spying and net neutrality), but I’ve been given a pretty wide berth to cover pretty much all other topics that cover tech in some way. So that’s pretty much it as far as content restrictions go.
Verizon subsequently “threw [Stryker] under the bus,” O’Neill in a follow-up, with the tech company claiming that “unlike the characterization by its new editor, SugarString is open to all topics that fit its mission and elevate the conversation around technology.”
Here’s the full statement from Verizon, via Ars Technica:
SugarString is a pilot project from Verizon Wireless’ marketing group, designed to address tech trends, especially those of interest to our customers. Unlike the characterization by its new editor, SugarString is open to all topics that fit its mission and elevate the conversation around technology.
SugarString was subsequently closed.
It remains to be seen what — if any — changes Verizon intends to make to its newly-acquired stable of online publications.
by Rob Price