On Thursday Wall Street Journal reporter Lukas Alpert tweeted that Bryan Goldberg, founder of the Bleacher Report and “women’s website” Bustle, had won Gawker’s bankruptcy auction.
You might remember that Goldberg was, I’ll remind you again, a man, who bragged about raising $6.5 million to start a site for women, something he seemed to think had never been done before. “Isn’t it time for a women’s publication that puts world news and politics alongside beauty tips?” Goldberg wrote for Pando in 2013. “What about a site that takes an introspective look at the celebrity world, while also having a lot of fun covering it?” Perhaps the names Jezebel, The Hairpin, The Toast, Bust, Bitch, xoJane, Autostraddle, Refinery29, AfterEllen, etc. etc. *screaming* ETC. didn’t ring a bell.
And it’s not entirely surprising that Goldberg decided to buy Gawker, given how the site wrote beautifully, and often, about how much of a dipshit Bryan Goldberg is. “Who Gave This Asshole $6.5 Million to Launch a Bro-Tastic Lady Site?” asked Sam Biddle in 2013 for for Valleywag, right after Goldberg announced Bustle:
...his suggestion that there is a big empty void where smart, successful websites that cater to women. There are many, many titles already doing what he imagines, and doing it without a boor at the helm. Is it possible that Bryan Goldberg, on his quest to bring Internet to women like beads to the savages, has not read any of them? It does seem possible.
Ever since Bustle started in 2013, Goldberg continued to make an ass out of himself. There was the Lizzie Widdicombe New Yorker profile of Bustle, where Goldberg admitted that men don’t read books, and was memorably accompanied by a photo of Goldberg using a young woman employee’s bare legs as a desk, because I can only assume Goldberg takes “women’s media” so seriously that he prefers to use women’s bodies as literal furniture. Women across publishing berated Goldberg for his insensitivity, but was it well deserved?
Yes of course it was, as Splinter’s Hamilton Nolan pointed out in a Gawker post titled “The Relentless and Well-Deserved Mockery of Bryan Goldberg.” He writes:
Bleacher Report, which Goldberg sold for $200 million, is little more than a deluge of barely-literate clickbait crapola written by poorly compensated schlubs. (Not to be confused with Gawker Media, where we are fairly compensated.) It was one thing for a dude like Goldberg to get rich off of a shitty sports site. It’s another for him to have raised more than $6 million for a women’s site. That really pissed people off, for a few reasons: 1) Bryan Goldberg is not a woman, 2) Bryan Goldberg does not seem to have any particular insight into women (a polite way of saying he is not a smart man), and 3) Bryan Goldberg wrote an incredibly patronizing and enraging announcement of his new site, in which he seemed to suggest that no one ever in history had considered making a website, with various content, that women might like to read.
“Bryan Goldberg, you clueless scamp,” Nolan concluded. “Sure, you may be a living example of the tech world’s fundamental unfairness to women. But you’re great fun when you start talking.”
But aside from the fact that Goldberg isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed (oh, perhaps I should adapt this to women specifically... uh, brightest lipstick in your Sephora VIP gift bag!), he also adopted a particularly awful business model for Bustle, one which underlines not just how content farms operate but what men will actually pay for women’s writing. When listings for Bustle writers started popping up shortly after the site’s launch, they promised writers $100 a day for four to six posts a day. “It’s very hard to pay writers a full-time salary with benefits these days,” he told Business Insider about the pay issue. “The model can’t coexist with profits if you’re a startup. But there’s a lot of room between paying someone $100,000 and benefits and paying them nothing...” Who knew, inexplicably raising $6.5 million can’t let you pay your overworked, young women writers appropriate salaries!
In 2016 Jezebel’s Rich Juzwiak pointed out at Gawker in a post titled “Bustle and the Industrialization of Confession” that for many of these bustling (heh) young women writers, there was one genre of writing Bustle seemed to value the most: trauma. Juzwiak published a copy of a “Bustle Writers: Identity Survey,” which ranged from basic questions covering age and sexual identity to checking off boxes that confirmed you were a virgin, gone to rehab, suffered from depression, had a threesome, were in an abusive relationship, are a victim of sexual assault, and other disturbing details that should not be mined for content for $100 a day, or perhaps mined for content ever.
Bustle editor Julie Alvin told Juzwiak that the survey was optional, but he spoke with one writer who thought otherwise. She told him:
I felt like I needed to fill it out because I didn’t want to seem like someone who was bringing objections to the job right away...You don’t ever want to be put in a position where you have to lie to your boss. Even though people can fill out this survey and choose to lie, it’s a weird experience. I’m a journalist. I don’t want to have to lie to this website where I’m supposed to be publishing the truth. Maybe that sounds silly or idealistic, but it was difficult for me to do that, especially on my first day.
Juzwiak’s piece struck at the heart of a common problem in publishing. Men like Goldberg see women readers as dollar signs, sure, but they also seem to view women’s voices as important only as far as they can generate dollar signs for his company. And the fastest route to do so was to have women confessing, from every angle, their most humiliating and traumatic personal experiences for viral mockery, and for $100 a day of course. “The current media climate demands more life from writers than ever, especially if they aren’t interested in doing actual reporting,” wrote Juzwiak. “The market rewards personal storytelling with attention—the more lurid and specific, the better.”
“It may be producing the odd competent piece about grapefruit blowjobs, but it’s not exactly leading any conversations,” Michelle Dean wrote about Bustle for Gawker in 2014. “Its strong traffic makes it profitable, but not memorable. And that’s doing no favors to the young women trying to make a name for themselves there.” And Bustle has continued to trudge along these days largely as a content farm, always there when you need to Google in-depth journalism like “Halo Top’s Peanut Butter & Jelly Flavor Is Only Here For A Limited Time — Here’s How To Score A Pint For Free” or “Every New CVS Summer Beauty Item Is Less Than $20 So Get Ready To Spend.”
Perhaps this kind of writing is what *shudders* will become of Gawker. But no matter what we’ll always have the memories, tender, beautiful memories, of how much Bryan Goldberg sucked (and will continue to suck).