Two Cheers for Bustle

by Freddie deBoer

While I’m on the subject of making professional online writing sustainable– yesterday, Amanda Hess at Slate took a look back at the first year of Bustle, the controversial women’s site that launched to much derision. That criticism largely stemmed from Bustle’s founder, Bryan Goldberg, and a disastrous announcement he made that made his site sound simultaneously self-important and condescending to its own audience. Internet infamy followed. And yet Hess has found that Goldberg has wooed many of his old critics, and that Bustle has been a massive success in terms of building an audience and securing ad revenue additional capital. To which I say: good, I guess?

Goldberg is a dink. His initial rollout of the site was plainly dopey, although from a troll bait, “any publicity is good publicity” standpoint, kind of genius. I can understand why people would be upset that this guy has become a powerful force in women’s media, and that he’s raking in more money. But I think there was a simple reason to cheer Goldberg’s site even back before he did his apology tour: Bustle pays, and it pays women, and that in and of itself is a kind of victory online.

Hess quotes The Toast’s Mallory Ortberg, who said “On the other hand, women write and work for Bustle, and they get paid, and I’m always in support of that.” As Hess points out in her piece, whatever you think about Goldberg, he’s making it easier for bright young women to break into an industry that can be brutal for workers. Perhaps we’d prefer the head of the site to be more enlightened, or just less doofy, but he’s spending on talent and that matters.

Diversity in media, like diversity in other fields, is one of the problems that can be easiest solved with brute force: when there aren’t enough women writers, you hire more. When their aren’t enough black actors, you hire more. You can throw money at this problem. Chris Hayes found that cable news systematically under-represents people of color, so he went out of the way to correct that by explicitly and unapologetically looking for non-white voices for his own show. I am always confused by those who argue that this somehow diminishes the accomplishment of the people involved; those voices wouldn’t be heard if that effort wasn’t made, we know that there are systemic inequalities that ordinarily exclude those voices, so we fix it with brute force. That’s just a good thing. Same here: Bustle means there’s more work for women writers online, which makes the internet a more diverse, honest place, and that’s worth celebrating in and of itself.