Bleacher Report founder Bryan Goldberg made a big announcement Tuesday in a post on tech website PandoDaily: He had raised $6.5 million to launch Bustle.com, the first women’s site to combine serious issues with style and entertainment. “Isn’t it time for a women’s publication that puts world news and politics alongside beauty tips?” he asked.
The rest of the announcement was widely panned as patronizing, tone-deaf and generally disastrous. Among other faux pas, Goldberg held a Q&A with himself in which he assured readers that “we believe that a partner-track attorney can be passionate about world affairs and celebrity gossip … And there is nothing wrong with that.”
“My head hit the desk when I read it,” Jezebel editor Jessica Coen told Adweek. “Right out of the gate, when that guy is the biggest representative of your brand, that has to be very dispiriting from an editorial perspective.”
After defending himself in the comments section of his original post, Goldberg finally decided to backtrack. This afternoon, he published an apology letter—again, on PandoDaily—admitting that he had “over-simplified the editorial landscape” and “came across as pandering,” despite intentions to the contrary. “I’m disappointed in myself, because my blog post completely overshadowed the women who are working hard at Bustle to build a valuable site,” he wrote.
Reaction to the apology was mixed. “I applaud the effort, but it does read like he was parroting what he was told in the comments,” said Coen. “I find it hard to believe that he would do a total 180 and completely understand the issue over the course of 36 hours.”
Flavorpill editorial director (and former Gawker editor) Elizabeth Spiers, who took Goldberg to task in a well-received Flavorpill post, had a similarly mixed response. “I think he admits that he was unprepared and that he needs to look more closely at the category. And I think it's sincere,” she said. Still, she added, “In terms of whether he addresses the issues: we won't know until we see a product that really does work for the audience. And maybe he'll end up producing that, but I don't think what he has now is going to do the trick.” (According to Spiers, Bustle currently “leaves a lot to be desired,” relying on an “inconsistent” mix of aggregated content and oversimplified writing.)
So is Bustle.com doomed? Not necessarily. “I think the launch mess is something you can recover from pretty quickly, but you have to fix the site or you won't have an audience,” said Spiers. “It's not just a matter of getting readers there once; they have to come back.”
Asked what advice she would give to Goldberg, Coen offered: “Take a step back. You’re launching a women’s website; you have every reason to talk about it from a business perspective, but once you start going into the philosophical ideas behind it and the editorial attitude and the skills and talents of your staff, let the staff handle it.”