NEW YORK: The editorial teams at TechCrunch and Engadget are biting back at media reports that questioned how they will maintain their credibility once their parent company, AOL, is acquired by Verizon.
After the $4.4 billion deal was disclosed on Tuesday via press release, Engadget editor-in-chief Michael Gorman posted a blog on the technology website reassuring readers that "Verizon is buying Engadget, not its editorial."
The deal will mean "nothing" to readers in terms of changes at the site, he said.
"We will continue to tell the stories that give you the full picture of how technology is changing our world and affecting our lives," he wrote. "And yes, that includes coverage of some of Verizon's not-so-favorite topics, like the Patriot Act, Net Neutrality and online privacy."
Regardless of the actions or views of Engadget’s new corporate parent, the site’s mission will continue to be to impartially report the news "with wit and insight," he added.
"Engadget's editorial isn't for sale. It never has been, and it never will be," said Gorman. "Not as long as I and executive editor Christopher Trout are running things."
Trout also stuck up for Engadget’s editorial integrity on Twitter.
A lot of shit talking going on today. @Engadget is run by humans. Humans with integrity and ethics. Nothing’s changing as long as we’re here— Christopher Trout (@Mr_Trout) May 12, 2015
Brian Fagioli, a reporter at BetaNews, suggested to Trout on Twitter that Engadget should stop phone reviews because "readers would be hesitant" to trust the site under its new ownership.
In response, Trout tweeted that consumers will be skeptical only if Engadget gives them reason to be.
"We’ll continue to be impartial as long as I am here," he replied.
Both Engadget and TechCrunch reporters were outspoken on social media about their opposition to the deal.
Engadget also began placing a disclaimer at the bottom of stories about Verizon: "Verizon is currently in the process of acquiring AOL, Engadget’s parent company. However, Engadget maintains full editorial control, and Verizon will have to pry it from our cold, dead hands."
TechCrunch co-editor Alexa Tsotsis dug up a tweet she posted in January joking that if Verizon bought AOL, she would pivot the website into 24-7 coverage of Net Neutrality and NSA issues.
Though if Verizon did buy Aol, @panzer and I would pivot Techcrunch into 24-7 coverage of Net Neutrality and NSA issues.— Alexia Tsotsis (@alexia) January 6, 2015
Another TechCrunch writer shared the following view on Verizon’s stance on Net Neutrality:
v proud to soon work for the company who sued and killed one version of net neutrality so that we got a better one— Alex (@alex) May 12, 2015
Other journalists expressed support for TechCrunch.
Anyone who questions whether TechCrunch can remain objective under Verizon didn’t follow their journos close enough under Aol. They can.— Matthew Keys (@MatthewKeysLive) May 12, 2015
Industry experts told PRWeek that AOL’s media outlets were not the focus of the deal and agreed with earlier reports that Verizon could ditch the news websites altogether. Re/code reported on Tuesday that AOL has been in discussions with other companies to sell the flagship Huffington Post website.
Asked how the deal could affect the tech publications’ coverage and readers’ trust in them, Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser told PRWeek that media content was an irrelevant part of the transaction.
"This deal is entirely about the ad tech assets; there is nothing strategic whatsoever about the content businesses," he said. "I would be surprised if they retain those businesses; they will probably spin them off at some point."
When TechCrunch writer Anthony Ha asked AOL chairman and CEO Tim Armstrong if he is planning to sell The Huffington Post, he didn’t outright deny the possibility of a deal
"We get approached to do things all the time," he told TechCrunch, adding that it is his job to "keep all the optionality on the table."
However, he said the company will not sell TechCrunch.
"We’re going to be in the content business, we love the brands we have, and if anything, we’ll probably add more and more heft to our content business over time," Armstrong added.
Experts: A confusing deal message
Verizon announced the deal on Tuesday morning via a press release, shying away from multimedia and social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter. Bob Varettoni, executive director of corporate communications at Verizon, told PRWeek that no PR firms were involved in the deal’s rollout.
"[Verizon] undertook a multifaceted internal and external communications strategy to support the announcement of the AOL transaction and, as always, our PR strategy was tied directly to the needs of our business," said Varettoni on Wednesday.
Scott Monty, EVP of strategy at Shift Communications, was not impressed by how the companies’ in-house comms teams crafted the statement.
He wrote a blog post on LinkedIn saying the language of the announcement was "confusing, fraught with industry jargon, and generally antiseptic—especially while heralding a new era of improvements of ‘premium customer experience.’"
Josh Bernoff, who recently launched a writing and consulting business called Without Bullshit, also critiqued the press release and boiled it down to a "digestible" version.
"Corporate strategies and slick marketing materials mean nothing if there isn't a complete consistency of message and brand across your company," noted Monty, in his blog. "It's got to be a cultural thing, not something heralded in a press release or slogan."
Verizon expects the deal to close this summer. Armstrong will stay in his role once the acquisition is complete, AOL said on Tuesday.
This story was updated on May 13 with comment from Varettoni.