What kind of “content company” Goldberg has in mind doesn’t seem to really matter — at least to him, apparently. He offers no clue. “Content” is “probably the single best venture sub-sector to create,” he wrote. Statements like that, along with his repeated references to “the content space,” and his breakdown of the economics of “content,” make it clear that neither the pursuit of quality nor the desire to connect with readers in any meaningful way are part of his calculations.
And that should be no surprise. Bleacher Report, a site focused on sports, never pretended (until recently) to offer anything of real value, and it has been widely disdained as a (highly successful) content mill, like Demand Media AMZN and, to a degree, BuzzFeed. The idea is to draw as much traffic as possible as cheaply as possible. Toward that end, Bleacher Report makes much use of “crowdsourcing” or “user-generated content.” Both terms in this case mean the site gets lots of free labor from people whose writing talent and knowledge vary widely. Like BuzzFeed, the site runs a lot of lists of “The Top 5” this and the “Worst 15” that, as well as lots and lots of pageview-boosting slideshows.
Also like BuzzFeed, the site is largely driven by Google-gaming technology and hyperattention to what’s trending online. Stories are often assigned based not on their merit, but solely on whether they will capture “eyeballs.”
Bleacher Report was sold in August to Turner Broadcasting for an amount reported to be “under $200 million.” (Turner’s parent also owns Fortune.) Of late, it has been adding more professional writers and playing up its better unpaid contributors. Such tactics are similar to what both The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed have done, but it’s hard to tell at this point how much those efforts have to do with a genuine desire to increase quality vs. a desire to convince advertisers that they aren’t paying for low-rent space.
Shortly before publishing his vague plans for a new company, Goldberg, who is no longer associated with Bleacher Report, lashed out at what he called “the haters.” By this he meant mainly Will Leitch, founder of Deadspin, a sports site that is part of the Gawker media empire. Leitch in February ran roughshod over Bleacher Report, writing that the site’s “ascendance over the last three years is one of the more depressing developments in the sports world, but also one of its most inevitable.” It “exists to fool people into thinking Bleacher Report is a real site with real information,” Leitch wrote. (Deadspin recently announced it would allow unpaid contributors to post to the site.)
It could also be one of the more depressing developments in the media world in general — or, at least one of the more sobering ones. With online ad rates plummeting, and with mobile ads even harder to make money from, media companies are increasingly desperate to draw as many page views as possible, and to do so as cheaply as possible.
For people who care about quality, it doesn’t help that so many new-media moguls tend to view news and journalism as merely money-making enterprises and nothing else. In his “haters” rant, Goldberg characterized Leitch as being anti-profits. “When journalists criticize a publication for ‘putting profits first’ [a phrase Leitch never used], then they are biting the hand that feeds them,” he wrote. “Don’t want profits? Fine. Then don’t expect a job in 10 years.”
But Leitch of course is not opposed to profits. He and others who decry the mercenary nature of certain Web publishers aren’t against making money — they’re only against the idea that making (short-term) money should be the only consideration.