So Are We Just Gonna Let Bustle CEO Bryan Goldberg Ruin The Internet?
Once upon a time, in 2013, Bryan Goldberg, owner of Bleacher Report, made an announcement. He, a man, was going to invent the world's very first website for women. Sure! There was already Jezebel, XOJane, The Toast, Bitch, Bust, The Hairpin, The Frisky, Slate's XX, Autostraddle, Refinery29, Feministe, Feministing, Clutch, Crunk Feminist Collective and approximately 25,000 other women's sites out there at the time, but he had never heard of any of those. So he was going to make the first women's site ever. Particularly the first ever site that combined both politics and fashion tips.
Isn't it time for a women's publication that puts world news and politics alongside beauty tips? What about a site that takes an introspective look at the celebrity world, while also having a lot of fun covering it? How about a site that offers career advice and book reviews, while also reporting on fashion trends and popular memes?
Oh wow, what an amazing brand new idea he had! And following that were reports that he did not intend to pay writers very much, as well as later reports that the writers were making very little for the amount of work they were expected to do. There was that time there was a picture in the New Yorker of Goldberg using a female employee's legs as a desk. Oh! And read this bit from a former employee who helped him find women to write for the site:
"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.'"
Are you screaming now?
Late last year, Goldberg acquired Gawker -- a site that had continually reported on his awfulness throughout the years -- and is now relaunching it. He also acquired Mic, immediately firing everyone on its unionized staff. Nice!
The Wrap reported yesterday that Mic had quietly begun publishing again this month, with two writers, Lauren Rearick and Emma Sarran Webster. But instead of social justice oriented politics and commentary, the only new articles on the site are about budgeting and applying for credit cards and "Six places to visit that are actually more fun in the winter."
If you'll notice, these articles bear a lot less of a resemblance to the kind of articles one previously would have found on Mic than they do to the kind of advertorial clickbait you usually see in sidebars. You know, the kind that usually appears next to another article titled "Remember her? You won't believe what she looks like now!"
The new writers, as you may have guessed, are not part of the Mic union.
It's clear what Goldberg is doing here. He wants the name brand, he wants to sell ads off the traffic of older, higher quality articles while paying minimal dollars for new, SEO'd to oblivion content that is more advertiser-friendly. The kind of content that can go in those little clickbait boxes on the sidebars of other sites.
That wasn't the only Goldberg news we got yesterday. Bustle Digital Group also announced who the first new hires for "New Gawker" would be.
It doesn't seem like they're off to too great a start, as their editorial director is just as repulsive as Goldberg himself.
Laura Wagner of Splinter (actual New Gawker) reports:
Griffith was most recently the entertainment editor at Architectural Digest. Before that, she was a freelance writer, who delivered such gems as "Bill O'Reilly Reveals His Soft Side" (per public records from 2008, she's a registered Republican) and prolific tweeter.
Prolific how, you ask? Prolific in terms of tweeting bunch of gross things about her maid.
And being simultaneously racist and transphobic!
And being homophobic!
So that's nauseating!
I have had a vendetta against Bryan Goldberg since he first stepped out with that misogynistic bullshit about women's sites, and my grudge has grown stronger and more resolute with each passing year. It's not just him, as a person, who's the problem (although he is definitely a problem!). The Bustle-ification of media is a problem as well. This idea of hiring a ton of new writers you don't have to pay a lot and working them to death to produce #content on every conceivable Google search? That's bad for me as a writer and, frankly, it's bad for you as a consumer if you want an internet filled with good stuff instead of content mills. So I don't link to his sites, I avoid even clicking on them, and I'd never write for one (not that they'd have me, given that I am such a man-hater and all). If you weren't already avoiding them, it's time to start.
Those of us in media have enough working against us right now. More media sites are getting unionized and that's awesome, but we need help and support from consumers to ensure that this is a survivable profession. Between Facebook's wacky algorithms and failed pivots-to-video and constant layoffs and shitty venture capitalists buying up piles of sites and running them into the ground because they do not know what the hell they are doing, it's a precarious industry. I've had multiple offers for jobs in New York, and I've turned them down because I knew that if the sites didn't last I would be totally screwed (Narrator: the sites did not last) trying to survive in a city that expensive on freelancing alone. A thing you can do as a consumer to help this is by not supporting garbage sites or garbage people like Bryan Goldberg with your clicks and shares.
You can also support good ones, like Wonkette (wink wink, nudge nudge)!
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. In addition to her work at Wonkette, she also has a biweekly column at Dame. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse