When Bryan Goldberg interviewed himself on PandoDaily about the $6.5 million he received to launch Bustle, a website for women that "puts world news and politics alongside beauty tips," Bryan Goldberg neglected to ask Bryan Goldberg a crucial question: Why would the cofounder of a spammy sports site want to speak to a female audience?
Goldberg offered a lot of smoke and funhouse mirrors that exposed his lack of due diligence about his competitors ("What’s unreal is how neglected and underserved the women’s publishing business has become"), his condescending estimation about the kind of news women like to read (apparently, sites like Politico and TechCrunch are for men), and his piss poor attitude as the founder of a purportedly feminist publication ("Knowing the difference between mascara, concealer, and eye-liner is not my job.")
However, according to a report in Autostraddle, an independently-owned site for lesbian, bisexual and queer women, the real reason Goldberg started Bustle was much more craven. Autostraddle spoke to a former intern at "proto-Bustle" named Raphi who claimed he targeted women because that was his only option:
"He told me that his contract, when he sold Bleacher Report, stipulated that he couldn't make another site targeting the same demographic (i.e. males 18-34). So that was why he decided to make a site for women... he said he was hoping to make "the biggest site for women" on the web, because he couldn't target men anymore. It had nothing to do with actually being interested in women's issues... he never used the word "feminist" to describe it to me at all. I found [his characterization of it that way in the launch announcement] sort of surprising... he clearly envisioned this as more of a Vogue/Cosmo-type publication, and along the way I guess figured that there was money to be made in co-opting feminism."
I emailed the editors of Bustle for comment, but Goldberg himself responded, disputing the claims in Autostraddle. "Yes, much of what is stated in that article is factually inaccurate," he wrote. But considering how much Goldberg back-tracked and revised his initial description of the site—parroting back criticisms from veteran female editors as though he thought of those points himself—it's hard believe he had more noble intentions in mind.
The inside story behind Bustle is just gross. To Bryan Goldberg, words are cheap. http://t.co/uQybr0LgTB— Maya Baratz (@mbaratz) August 23, 2013
In Raphi's version of events, Goldberg's true colors came through in their initial interview, when he mocked the notion of body positivity and opened with: "No offense, but you don't look like someone who will cry if she can't get her hands on the latest Gucci purse."
From there, it devolves into your worst nightmare of serial spamtrepreneur spoon-fed millions by clueless venture capitalists to try to game female readers for clicks as cheaply as possible. And with a bro-loving attitude to boot!
"We had a big database with hundreds of names of potential writers. He specifically wanted ones from small towns who would work for less than people based in SF or NY... he asked me to search for talented writers in Poughkeepsie or Pittsburgh or "other crappy cities that begin with P." In one of our meetings we went through some of the writers I picked... some from Jezebel, HelloGiggles, xoJane, etc. He had them up on the projector and we went to their sites and rated them on a 1-5 scale. There was a list of criteria — 'good grammar,' 'frequently updates blog.' Then there were qualities he didn't want — i.e. 'angry,' 'man-hating.' And everyone was rated on this scale. He told me not to contact so many "smart" writers (I think he meant something very specific by "smart") and that many of the ones I liked seemed to have big chips on their shoulders. He'd never heard of Bitch or xoJane, and I don’t think he knew about Bust magazine before I told him about it... I told him about Bitch and he snarked on the name and said 'advertisers must love that.'"
In spite of Raphi's description of Goldberg's initial vision, Bustle has hired editors and contributors that seem to be based mainly in New York and Los Angeles and it's easy to find feminist content on the site, which Autostraddle openly acknowledges. I asked Goldberg to elaborate on the non-compete clause and any other factual inaccuracies. He sent the following list:
- I have never signed any agreement with such a stipulation, nor would I have signed one.
- My interest in starting a site like Bustle predated the sell of Bleacher Report. [Ed note: In March, Fortune wrote "What kind of "content company" Goldberg has in mind doesn't seem to really matter— at least to him, apparently."]
- Contrary to the ridiculous claims of the Autostraddle article, I am not only recruiting highly-intelligent editors, but I have already hired many of them. The editors and writers on Bustle are smart, talented women, and any claim to the contrary is demonstrably absurd.
- We are recruiting writers from across the country, about half of whom are in the New York area. All of the editors live and work in New York. The company is trying to maximize geographic diversity of writers — right now, we have presence in eight states and the UK. In other words, the article could not have been more wrong.
- The person quoted in the article pre-dated the existence of the company and is in no position to talk about the company. It appears that she is friends with the article's author, and was trying to help her friend get a 'scoop'. The article has no journalistic integrity, both because it is so inaccurate, and because the author clearly has a friendship with the source.
If a prior relationship with the author constitutes a lack of "journalistic integrity," what does that make interviewing yourself for glorified press release and publishing it as news?
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[Image via PandoDaily]