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Verizon-Backed Site Bans Stories on US Spying, Net Neutrality

Mitch Wagner
10/29/2014

A Verizon-sponsored news site is making headlines of its own as critics accuse it of censoring news about US spying and government neutrality.

With a discreet "Presented by Verizon" tag at the bottom of the page, SugarString looks like a lot of other geeky news sites. It has articles on serious subjects ("Can GPS Tracking Empower Victims of Domestic Abuse?"), silly subjects ("'Libraries in Videogames' Proves There's a Blog for Everything") and serious subjects with a silly spin ("Legendary Drag Queen lady Bunny Weighs In On Controversial Facebook Policy").

What you won't find: Articles about US spying or net neutrality, according to a report on a competitor website, The Daily Dot, by a journalist who says he was informed of the ban when he received a recruiting letter for the site. The reporter, Patrick Howell O'Neill, includes a scan of the recruitment letter he received.

Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) has come under fire for cooperating with US government intelligence activities, dating back to the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center. Verizon also vociferously opposes net neutrality.

Verizon has a troubling history with free speech issues, according to Timothy Karr, senior director of strategy for Free Press, a media reform group, writing at the Huffington Post. Verizon claims it has a Constitutional right to filter Internet content, and it has censored text messages from a pro-choice advocacy group to its own members, Karr says.

Beyond what does and does not appear on the site is the question about Verizon's motivation and its chances of making any impact on public perceptions by using funds that would otherwise be used for more traditional marketing and public relations activities: Many companies in the communications sector have their own blogs and develop their own industry news on their corporate websites, but this takes content creation by a communications service provider to a different level.

— Mitch Wagner, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on Facebook, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading. Got a tip about SDN or NFV? Send it to [email protected]

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mendyk
mendyk
12/3/2014 | 4:40:38 PM
Re: RIP
So sad -- a dark day indeed for 21st-century journalism.
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
12/3/2014 | 12:21:53 PM
RIP
And now the site is dead
Phil_Britt
Phil_Britt
10/31/2014 | 2:00:29 PM
Re: a different level
Agree with your point. There are all kinds of sponsored sites that control content. And even sites and print publications with a more diverse advertising mix control content. How much pro-Obama material do you expect to see on a Tea Party site, and vice versa?

And even if one believes "everything," should get equal treatment, that would open sites up to slanderous or other unprofessional material.
KBode
KBode
10/31/2014 | 8:59:32 AM
Re: Why is Verizon doing this?
They might, and they should. I'd have to do a search to see if they have yet. There's supposed to be at least something vaguely resembling a firewall there. Obviously many news outlets fail in that responsibility, as CBS's control over CNET during the Hopper DVR scuff up clearly illustrates. 
wanlord
wanlord
10/31/2014 | 12:25:10 AM
Re: Why is Verizon doing this?
Would Amazon let the Washington Post publish a scathing negative article about Amazon.com?

 

 

 

 
KBode
KBode
10/30/2014 | 12:59:59 PM
Re: Why is Verizon doing this?
"There are already quite a few out there for Verizon to advertise on -- Wired, Engadget, Boing Boing, IO9.com, Gizmodo, Ars Technica. What does Verizon get from this site that it couldn't just get from advertising?"

I agree. What they got this week was to pay money (money that could go toward running a network) on a website that saw nothing but justifiable mockery from the broader media. 

Verizon obviously has every right to run a news website that omits oodles of massively-important issues resulting in mockery for trying to curtail functional discourse.

Unless I'm over-estimating the intelligence of Millenials (Verizon's professed target demographic) and they all flock to this website in droves, it seems like a silly and wasteful effort on Verizon's part.
futurephil
futurephil
10/29/2014 | 7:01:27 PM
Re: Why is Verizon doing this?
Novelty is overrated in publishing.

But, to answer your question, Verizon is smart to hedge because advertising on name-brand sites is expensive for the very little attention and pull-through you get, even when it is being properly measured.

Even a very well-managed campaign across the sites you list would cost a ton and you might not be able to prove it really did anything for your business.
futurephil
futurephil
10/29/2014 | 6:54:06 PM
Re: a different level
I was curious about what constitutes a "different level" of sponsorship control, as you noted in your commentary. There's really only one level - the advertiser is the boss. That's how all B2B publishing (single-sponsor or otherwise) really works.

So, is there a level beyond that?
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
10/29/2014 | 6:22:26 PM
Why is Verizon doing this?
Amplifying the point in the last paragraph: Even if you're fine with a tech news site that doesn't touch net neutrality and spying, you have to ask why Verizon is investing in building its own geek news site. There are already quite a few out there for Verizon to advertise on -- Wired, Engadget, Boing Boing, IO9.com, Gizmodo, Ars Technica. What does Verizon get from this site that it couldn't just get from advertising?
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
10/29/2014 | 6:18:33 PM
Re: a different level
FuturePhil - Verizon pays for the site, they get to control what's on the site, and others get to criticize Verizon. Is that a problem?
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