Verizon Wireless is getting into the media business with its own tech and digital culture site to compete with the likes of The Verge, Engadget, and our own Digital Trends. There’s just one problem: It won’t publish anything related to U.S. Surveillance or Net neutrality.
According to a recruitment email sent to Patrick O’Neill of The Daily Dot — and a number of tech journalists — by Sugarstring.com Editor-in-Chief Cole Stryker, there are some strict editorial boundaries at the site. While plenty of topics are fair game, anything that discuss surveillance on U.S. citizens or Net neutrality is forbidden. This is a hard sell, considering how often these topics crawl into just about anything related to the Internet or technology these days. Conveniently, O’Neill also noted from his emails that talking about surveillance in other countries, such as China, is perfectly fine.
Sugarstring launched in June and describes itself as, “thoughtful tech.” Observant readers will notice Verizon Wireless advertising on most pages, a Verizon Wireless logo at the bottom, and this message at the bottom of every article: “These articles were written by authors contracted by Verizon Wireless.” Even the domain is registered in Verizon Wireless’s name. This is in contrast to many other media organizations owned by Internet providers, such as AOL’s Engadget and Comcast’s NBC, which are operated and budgeted independent of the parent organization.
According to Stryker’s recruitment email, Sugarstring takes inspiration from projects like Vice’s Motherboard. Motherboard was sponsored for several years by Dell when it first launched. However, unlike Sugarstring, Motherboard was still independent of Dell and had no editorial influence on its content.
In any case, it’s not up to Sugerstring to decide its ethics in journalism, but instead its readers. We’ll have to wait and see what tech readers around the world think of a corporate-sponsored site that limits the editorial range of its writers. This news also comes the same week that Verizon was caught trying to track its customers permanently.