Patrick O'Neill, over at The Daily Dot, has a scoop about Verizon getting directly into our game: tech blogging. It's launched a brand new tech news website
, called SugarString
, which apparently is supposed to compete with other tech news sites. Now, I know that some are immediately skeptical just based on the fact that Verizon is launching a news site -- but I don't find that alone particularly troubling. In fact, I think many companies should be producing good, relevant content, because good content is good advertising
. Hell, a decade ago, I was very involved with a great news site that Nokia put together called TheFeature
, which involved a really spectacular group of writers covering news and commentary about the coming mobile world (sadly, TheFeature was basically wiped off the internet, though the archives can still be found
). But, at least there, we had free reign to write about anything we thought was interesting at all. There was no pressure or influence from Nokia at all -- at least none that I ever felt. And, honestly, I think more companies should be engaging with people with good content.
But, of course, this is Verizon, so its good intent is undermined by something silly. And, in this case, the something silly is that anyone writing for SugarString has to agree not to write about net neutrality or government surveillance
, two of the biggest, most important tech topics these days. From our standpoint, I guess that takes away "competition" (though, amusingly, it does appear like at least one story
on the site is a warmed over version of something that we wrote
a week ago, but made more clickbaity with a "list") on two of the main stories we cover, but it really does raise questions about why anyone would ever trust the site in the first place, when, from the very outset
, Verizon has made it clear that its editorial control will be focused on staying away from any stories that Verizon doesn't like.
O'Neill found out about the site, and the restrictions, when he was recruited from The Daily Dot to see if he wanted to write for the site, via its editor Cole Stryker. Stryker seems like an odd choice as the editor, as the author of an entire book
about anonymity and privacy online, who we interviewed
a few years ago. You'd think that among his areas of focus would be things like government surveillance. And, amusingly, many of the stories on the site do dance around
that topic, without getting anywhere near how Verizon might be involved:
Virtually every story currently on the front page of SugarString—articles about GPS being used by law enforcement, anonymity hardware enabling digital activists, and artists on the Deep Web—would typically include information on American surveillance of the Internet and net neutrality to give the reader the context to make sure she’s fully informed.
But none of articles do that. At best, they dance around the issue and talk about how other countries aside from the U.S. conduct surveillance. That self-censorship puts blinders on the reader, never giving her all the information she should have—information that, not coincidentally, tends to make Verizon and other powerful interests look very, very bad.
There's plenty of talk lately about the importance of trust
in journalism today (even if it's tricky to measure). I think it's absolutely possible for a big company to create great editorial content that builds up trust (we did with TheFeature those many years ago). But part of that is not denying reality or putting stupid, trust-destroying restrictions on the effort. Verizon appears to have failed that simple test, and with that, it takes away a big part of the trust that any such site would need.