Verizon is acquiring AOL for $US4.4 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 reported at the time, there was just one problem — it 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.
We first learnt about the site’s dubious editorial process when SugarString editor Cole Stryler 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.
Verizon subsequently “threw [Stryker] under the bus,” O’Neill wrote 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.”
SugarString was subsequently closed.
It remains to be seen what — if any — changes Verizon intends to make to its newly-acquired roster of online publications.