Dec 3, 2014 · 2 minutes

SugarString, the Verizon-funded tech publication whose contributors were forbidden from writing about surveillance programs and net neutrality, has met its all-too-timely demise.

DSLReports, the trade publication that first reported the news of SugarString's death, received a statement from Verizon confirming the move. "This was a pilot project; and as with any pilot project, we evaluate, take our learnings, improve our execution and move forward," the company's statement read in part. "That’s what we’ve decided to do here."

I hope Verizon doesn't decide to "improve [its] execution" by introducing another tech blog in a few months. The Internet doesn't really need another gadget-focused website; it definitely doesn't need a corporate blog masquerading as a news site even less, and least of all another mouthpiece for a company which belongs to one of the country's most contemptible of industries least of all.

There's nothing wrong with a publication that doesn't cover net neutrality or government surveillance programs. But there is something wrong with a telecommunications company deciding to experiment with a tech news site that doesn't report on the biggest tech stories this side of the moon landing, especially when corporate "news" is becoming more common.

Imagining a future in which SugarString managed to achieve its goal -- becoming a place at least some people would turn to for their technology news -- is enough to make me shudder. Readers have limited attention spans, and thinking that some of them might decide to spend such a precious resource on a blatant fuck-you to the press is more than a little scary.

It's not like corporations haven't fought to present their own interests as unbiased reporting in the past, either. Perhaps the most notable example is the Richmond Standard, a website funded by Chevron, and its unabashed efforts to spoon-feed its backer's ideas to its readers. As the Financial Times explained in an article mentioning the Standard back in September:

As trust in business has fallen, the appeal of telling stories that humanize companies has grown. The history of advertorials shows that brands have long wanted their advertisements to look like news, but as the subjects of news increasingly want to decide what counts as news, and as they get ever more skilled at doing so, they are posing a challenge to journalism’s traditional storytellers.
The Standard's ability to survive in a company town like Richmond should worry anyone who understands a robust local media's importance to keeping companies, politicians, and others in check. SugarString's inability to do the same in the tech ecosystem, however, is a sign that corporations aren't always able to control the news as much as they might desire.

All of which is to say that reporting on the government surveillance programs affecting untold numbers of people everyday, or the battle to determine the Internet's future, is important. SugarString might not have posed a legitimate threat to most publications, but its demise is still worth mentioning, if only because it means at least one corporate mouthpiece won't distract even a single person from the reporting of a legitimate news organization.

Journalism doesn't often succeed against the interests of those it seeks to hold accountable. Let's celebrate this victory, never mind how small it is, while we have the chance to do so.

[photo by Mike Mozart]