Bustle, a general interest women’s website launched this summer, might have flown under the radar, slowly amassing readers with its search engine optimized content, if it weren’t for founder Bryan Goldberg. Fresh from a $6.5 million fund-raising round, Goldberg — who previously founded Bleacher Report, a successful sports news site that built its readership using unpaid contributions from sports fans — bragged about his foray into women’s media with an interview with himself on tech blog PandoDaily. It revealed an opinion of women’s media that was both uninformed and condescending. “Yes, we believe that a partner-track attorney can be passionate about world affairs and celebrity gossip,” he wrote. “On the same day. During the same coffee break. And there is nothing wrong with that. Welcome to the year 2013.”
Without any apparent interest in existing women’s media, Goldberg believed he would be able to create content 50 million women would read, at a cheaper cost than anyone else (largely by underpaying an army of entry-level intern-writers). Such a blend of ignorance and arrogance infuriated the women writing for the many sites already daring to cover world affairs “and” celebrity gossip. They tore Goldberg to shreds — accusing him of “mansplaining” women’s media to women — in the post’s comment section and on Twitter, prompting an apology post that began, “I messed up.”
In this week’s New Yorker, Lizzie Widdicombe reports that the blowback was “tough” on the Bustle writers plugging away at the recently launched, now scrutinized site. News editor Rachel Krantz “and her fellow-editors had to institute ‘Twitter breaks,’ to keep their interns from going down self-flagellating rabbit holes.” We doubt things will get any easier following Widdicombe’s write-up.
Herewith, the ten thinly veiled insults in The New Yorker profile of Bustle, from most subtle to least.
On Goldberg’s publishing credentials: “not all bluff”
On Goldberg’s women’s media credentials: “Goldberg wasn’t a reader of women’s publications before he started one, but he considers himself an expert in ‘markets and audiences.’”
On Goldberg’s site, Bleacher Report, replacing Sports Illustrated as CNN.com’s source of sports news: “a reminder of how quickly, in the Internet age, a cost-effective business plan can overtake one built on a reputation for quality.”
On Goldberg’s vocabulary: “The next day, Goldberg wrote another blog post: an apology to women everywhere. It began, ‘I messed up,’ and confessed to what he called ‘pandering’ (a word that Goldberg seems to equate with ‘patronizing’) and having ‘over-simplified the editorial landscape.’”
On Goldberg’s appearance: “Despite having run a sports Web site, he does not look like an athlete. He is slightly plump, and he tends to wear baggy polo shirts, purchased in San Francisco, where, as he puts it, ‘the schlubbier you are, the more credibility you have.’ With his puffy face and untrimmed hair, he resembles a giant six-year-old.”
On Bustle’s voice: “Bustle’s house style — to the extent that one exists — is brisk and easily digestible, if a little thin.”
On Bustle’s editorial mix: “like the result of a one-night stand between Us Weekly and U.S. News & World Report”
On Goldberg’s understanding of women: “When Goldberg talks about his entry into women’s publishing, he can bring to mind an episode of The Simpsons, in which Homer, discovering that bacon, ham, and pork chops all come from pigs, calls them a ‘wonderful, magical animal.’”
On Goldberg’s understanding of women’s appetites: “Back at Bustle’s headquarters, the staff was gathering for a barbecue. […] [Goldberg] berated the site’s Web engineers for not ordering enough veggie and turkey burgers: ‘Four! We have four veggie burgers for a company of twenty women!’”
On Goldberg’s vision: “[Its] triumph of mathematical certainties over editorial art … reminded me of the infinite-monkey theorem: if you were to have monkeys randomly strike typewriters for an infinite amount of time, the proposition goes, they would eventually type the complete works of Shakespeare. If you assemble a sufficiently large and diverse group of young, female writers, they will eventually produce a Web site that is popular with young women.”