Bustle.com founder Bryan Goldberg doesn’t actually know women. This news website that exclusively targets women was born from an idea that there is no female equivalent of ESPN.com, a website that appeals to nearly all members of one gender.
Bustle is an aggregation of news that is supposed to appeal to women — fittingly nicknamed “A Site for Women”. Its team of (all female) writers crank out about 60 articles a day that are summaries of current news, beauty tips and celebrity gossip. Sample headlines: “Here’s Why Your Ex Shows Up in Your Facebook Feed,” “Bachelor Star Gia Reportedly on Life Support,” and, “Israel and Palestine Resume Peace Negotiations.”
Goldberg acts like he is the first person to realize that women are a large consumer market and that they have a variety of different interests, ranging from beauty to entertainment to politics. Yet Goldberg, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who founded BleacherReport, is unable to comprehend the true interests of this designated demographic.
“I am a dude,” Goldberg said in a New York Magazine profile. “I don’t have a lot of overlapping interests with most women my age. I’m really into history. I’m really into markets and finance. I don’t know a damn thing about beauty, but I don’t need to.”
Admittedly, Goldberg’s realization that a Web site’s ability to deliver to a demographic is key to its success is smart. Demand for media has been rapidly fragmenting to the extent that a cohesive mass market doesn’t really exist anymore.
“Today, we’re dealing with a large group of heterogeneous individuals who don’t want to be lumped into an impersonal cluster with others. They desire, demand, and deserve individual solutions for their unique needs” (Raynor). This has resulted in companies’ current fascination with niche marketing. Raynor refers to Gerald A. Michaelson, a senior consultant with Tennessee Associates International, who stated that effective niche marketing must be based on the ability to provide products that meet actual customer needs (Raynor).
It may be true that a pioneering women’s magazine doesn’t exist. Magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Seventeen are not as comprehensive as Bustle’s venture. Yet Goldberg’s approach to filling that void is pathetic at best and offensive at worst. Publishing for the opposite gender can be accomplished, assuming that the company accurately understands the market. But Goldberg has shown that he doesn’t understand.
“Traditionally, women’s magazines have specialized in a top-down product: an aspirational vision of leisure and beauty for the masses to emulate, embodied by the highly paid (and often highborn) editors. Goldberg’s model, by contrast, is both low-cost and populist” (Widdicombe 3).
Bustle’s office environment was detailed in a New Yorker profile on Goldberg, shown as a place where fresh college graduates gathered daily in a bohemian apartment in Brooklyn. They spend their workdays searching for articles online that they can rewrite in a language and style more attractive to women readers. Writers pick and choose which stories and issues they will refurbish for Bustle, resulting in an online news website that lacks objectivity and universally agreed-upon news judgment.
This is the biggest problem with Bustle — the publisher believes that content needs to be condensed and simplified in order for women to consume it. It assumes that women don’t read at all in the first place, and the only way to get them to do so is to present news in a narrow way that is filtered and processed.
Williams argues that in the next thirty years, as society moves more and more online, “we will witness the death of objectivity as an ethical standard for press in America” (Borden 31). As a substitute for traditional, valued journalism, the press will become a splintered mess of publications that represent political, ideological and commercial interests to an unprecedented degree.
“Opinion, marketing, advertising, information, and news will weave together so seamlessly, in the on-line environment, that the public will no longer be able to distinguish objective reporting from promotional messages” (31).
Bustle embodies this leap into a predicted new form of journalism. Three months into its launch, the website attracts one million monthly readers. And in time, if its readership grows, Bustle represents a decline in the quality of popular journalism.
Borden, Diane L., and Kerric Harvey. The Electronic Grapevine: Rumor, Reputation, and Reporting in the New On-line Environment. Mahwah, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates, 1998. Print.
Petri, Alexandra. “Why Bustle.com Doesn’t Work for Women.” The Washington Post. N.p., 17 Sept. 2013. Web
Raynor, Michael E. “The Pitfalls of Niche Marketing.” Journal of Business Strategy 13.2 (1992): 29-32. Print.
Widdicombe, Lizzie. “From Mars.” The New Yorker. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.