Ambitious news startup The Messenger shuts down after less than a year

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Digital news startup The Messenger is shutting down after less than a year and falling well short of its highly ambitious goals.

In a memo to staff obtained by Fox News Digital, founder Jimmy Finkelstein told staffers Wednesday he was devastated, but the site had “exhausted every option available” to raise the money needed to stay afloat.

“This is truly the last thing I wanted, and I am deeply sorry,” he wrote. “The Messenger started with an incredibly important mission – to deliver balanced and accurate journalism at a time when Americans’ trust in media is at a record low – and I am proud of what we achieved.” 

According to multiple reports, Messenger staffers will not get severance packages, and reporters wrote on X they were kicked out of the site’s Slack in the middle of a workday. Finkelstein, who previously ran such outlets as The Hill and The Hollywood Reporter, told the staff, “as a new company, we encountered even more significant challenges than others and could not survive those headwinds.”

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Messenger

In this photo illustration, the Messenger logo is displayed on a smartphone screen. (Getty Images / Getty Images)

Billing itself as a “new kind of news,” The Messenger hired hundreds of journalists last year at higher-than-average salaries. It pitched itself as a centrist juggernaut that would appeal to readers tired of partisan news coverage on politics, entertainment and sports.

Under Finkelstein, it raised $50 million from various investors before launching last May, opened offices in New York, Washington and Los Angeles – three of the most expensive cities in the country – and set a goal of having a newsroom of 550 journalists by 2024. Executives told the New York Times they hoped to generate $100 million in revenue by the end of the year as well, an eye-popping goal beyond the reach of even established news sites in the crowded digital space.

But it never came close to making that a reality. Throughout its eight-month run, it dealt with economic headwinds hitting other media outlets, as well as what critics said was an outdated advertising and money-making strategy, and reported editorial infighting about the site’s direction and coverage. Finkelstein touted the site doing solid traffic, but it wasn’t nearly enough to generate the revenue for a staff of its size.

One insider told Fox News Digital The Messenger was simply too ambitious from the jump.

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“They should have scaled and didn’t need to hire 300 people and open three bureaus,” they said.

News outlets were withering in their assessment of the troubled site’s collapse. Axios called it “one of the biggest failures of the internet era” on Wednesday, while the New York Times called it “one of the biggest busts in the annals of online news.”

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Some staffers appeared to learn the news of losing their jobs from reading about it on another site.

“All I know is that if I were to launch a media start-up I’d be sure to rent an entire floor of a downtown Manhattan skyscraper that was 9/10ths empty all day … and then fail to tell my employees they were laid off until they read about it in the New York Times,” The Messenger’s Jordan Hoffman wrote on X.

James LaPorta wrote on X he learned of being laid off from media reports and was on his way to clean out his desk in Washington.

Finkelstei

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – APRIL 10: Jimmy Finkelstein and Ben Smith speak on stage during the Semafor Media Summit on April 10, 2023 in New York City.  ((Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Semafor) / Getty Images)

Other staffers expressed gratitude to readers and their colleagues.

“I’ve written some difficult stories in my career, but drafting an I’ve-been-laid-off tweet has to be the hardest,” reporter Nolan D. McCaskill wrote on X. “Idk what’s next, but thank you to the readers and sources who gave The Messenger a chance — and the stellar politics team that made this worth the risk.”

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According to the New York Times, The Messenger lost $38 million last year, generating a mere $3 million in revenue, and had less than $2 million cash on hand going into 2024.

The site’s failure is the latest bit of grim media industry news, with numerous other sites recently reporting layoffs going into the new year.

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