I started reading this New Yorker piece about Bryan Goldberg with mild interest–he’s the 30 year old multi-millionaire founder of The Bleacher Report, a sports site it probably isn’t surprising I’d had never heard of as the demographic is described as “overwhelmingly male.” His latest venture-funded “business” plan is to create a parallel media site intended to appeal to young women through a mix of celebrity news and fashion & make-up tips intermixed with hard news stories and career advice. He wants to have a site that will be as ubiquitously popular with women as ESPN is with men.
I don’t have much of an opinion about his plan; I’m not in the target demographic (though I’ve never been interested in fashion or makeup, I do possess an alarming amount of trivial knowledge about celebrities from the late 80’s and early 90’s–so it’s possible this kind of site would have had some appeal to me). Goldberg comes off as an ambitious young man with a lot of enthusiasm and the kind of confidence that seems unsurprising in someone who has achieved complete financial security at a time in life when most people are still paying off student loan debt.
His approach has been to hire young women who are interested in publishing, pay them meagerly (which turns out to be a lot more than they can earn working and interning at traditional publishers like Glamour and Vogue) and give them a lot of flexibility and autonomy, possibly allowing them to get experience that will be far more valuable than making copies and fetching coffee. I kind of like that part–it’s hard not to be supportive of people who are trying to find or create new models for work, which seems like something we desperately need as our 20th century models for almost everything seem to be failing us in so many ways.
And then I got to this quote from Brian Morrissey, the editor of Digiday, on how sites like the Bleacher Report are “gaming” the Internet ad system:
“A well-researched expose, such as the one Sports Illustrated recently ran about N.C.A.A. violations by the Oklahoma State football team, may take many months of work from a highly paid reporter and editor. But, in the end, Morrissey said, “it yields the same revenue as a ’25 Sexiest Female athletes who can Kick Your Ass’ post, which cost, like, two hundred dollars.”
And I completely deflated. This makes an effort like Bustle seem like just one more cynical and short-sighted way of ensuring that a small number of people get rich without creating real value while imperiling the fate of organizations who produce good content by ultimately making it impossible for them to be profitable. And at the end of the day, is this very different from Wall Street sharks who enriched themselves with Credit Default Swaps and other exotic financial instruments? (Well, one way that it’s different is that tax payers won’t be asked to pick up the pieces of failed publishing ventures, so I guess that’s something…)
I love the Internet. There are so many good things about it, but it also has a dark underbelly that I guess is unavoidable in any disruptive technology. In the end I want believe the Internet can make the world a better place–the success of initiatives like Kickstarter and sites like Stack Overflow (and maybe even wikileaks), suggest that is possible but at the end of the day stories like this one–as benign as something like Bustle is compared to truly evil things like child pornography and human trafficking as well as garden variety crime and fraud–make me feel like we might actually be on the road to a net negative.