Yesterday's announcement that Verizon is buying AOL for $4.4 billion is still percolating through the blogosphere, but it has already generated quite a few editorials.
One in particular caught my eye. Michael Gorman, the editor-in-chief at Engadget, took to the blog to proclaim its editorial independence. He says that Engadget will not cater to Verizon's demands:
In the time that I have been editor-in-chief, the Engadget team has done some incredible work to deliver on the editorial mission I laid out just over a year ago. And things are going according to plan. Engadget's audience is larger than it's ever been (thanks!), and we continue to grow thanks to the strength of our reporting. We will continue to tell the stories that give you the full picture of how technology is changing our world and affecting our lives. And yes, that includes coverage of some of Verizon's not-so-favorite topics, like the Patriot Act, net neutrality and online privacy.
Of course, I understand the questions about Engadget's ability to maintain its editorial integrity in the wake of this acquisition. After all, Verizon has done nothing to earn us any benefit of the doubt -- quite the opposite, actually. But it doesn't matter who pays our salaries; we're not in the business of censorship. Engadget's editorial isn't for sale. It never has been, and it never will be. Not as long as I and Executive Editor Christopher Trout are running things. Actions speak louder than words, however, and it's time to get back to work. Stick around, I promise you won't want to miss what's next.
Those are pretty words, but the words that really matter here are the ones printed on the check. And the fact of the matter is, Verizon is going to be signing the checks from now on.
So yes, Verizon has bought Engadget's editorial, which means they could follow NewsCorp's lead and use Engadget as an official mouthpiece the way NewsCorp uses the Wall Street Journal.
And given Verizon's history, I would not be surprised if that happens.
As I pointed out yesterday, Verizon has previously dabbled in owning a tech blog, only it didn't end well. Last fall Verizon started a blog called SugarString, and then proceeded to make the name ironic by limiting coverage of key issues including net neutrality or government surveillance to only the most saccharine of coverage:
Verizon is getting into the news business. What could go wrong?
The most-valuable, second-richest telecommunications company in the world is bankrolling a technology news site called SugarString.com. The publication, which is now hiring its first full-time editors and reporters, is meant to rival major tech websites like Wired and the Verge while bringing in a potentially giant mainstream audience to beat those competitors at their own game.
Verizon shut down SugarString after heated criticism from media pundits, but that doesn't change the fact that Verizon exerted editorial control over its tech blog.
Are you really so sure that they won't try the same trick with Engadget, TUAW, and The Huffington Post?
I can't estimate the probability, but I'm also not willing to dismiss it out of hand.
Luckily for us there is a way out. Re/code and other sources reported yesterday that Verizon is looking to sell The Huffington Post.
The talks have been most serious with Axel Springer, the German media conglomerate, but a number of private equity firms have also expressed interest in the high-profile property. Sources said the Huffington Post has been valued at above $1 billion in this scenario, which would either be a complete sale or, more likely, structured as a joint venture.
We don't know at this time whether Verizon wants to sell the entire blog group or just the one site, but I bet it's the former. Someone at Verizon clued in on the point that they could be criticized for how the blogs cover certain topics even if Verizon never interferes.
Selling off the blogs would remove the chance of negative publicity entirely (this is why I don't fully believe re/code's report), and Verizon would be a fool not to go ahead with any reasonable offer.
image by Robert Scoble,