Upstart digital news outlet The Messenger shuts down less than a year after launch


The Messenger, the upstart digital news outlet that hired hundreds of journalists and vowed to upend the industry as a centrist publication, will shut down less than a year after its high-profile launch, the company said Wednesday.

The collapse of the outlet, founded by media entrepreneur Jimmy Finkelstein, marks one of the largest and swiftest failures of a media outlet in recent memory. The Messenger’s closure comes just eight months after its debut that was built on a strategy of generating gobs of internet traffic from social media platforms and search engines despite broader industry headwinds.

Staffers at the outlet learned of its shuttering on Wednesday from The New York Times, which broke the news of its demise, a person familiar with the matter told CNN.

In a memo sent to staff Wednesday afternoon, Finkelstein said he had made the “painfully hard decision to shut down The Messenger, effective immediately.”

“Over the past few weeks, literally until earlier today, we exhausted every option available and have endeavored to raise sufficient capital to reach profitability,” he wrote, according to a copy of the memo obtained by CNN. “Unfortunately, we have been unable to do so, which is why we haven’t shared the news with you until now.”

Finkelstein said he was “personally devastated” by the decision and apologized to staff for the site’s collapse.

“The economic headwinds have left many media companies fighting for survival,” he said. “Unfortunately, as a new company, we encountered even more significant challenges than others and could not survive those headwinds.”

The shuttering comes amid widespread layoffs in the media industry, with thousands of jobs shed across news organizations in the last year amid broader advertising and audience struggles. The Los Angeles Times, earlier this month, slashed its newsroom by more than 20%; TIME cut dozens of staffers; and Business Insider said it would trim its workforce by 8%. Meanwhile, hundreds of staffers at Condé Nast, Forbes, The New York Daily News, and others staged historic walkouts to protest planned cuts at the outlets.

At its launch, The Messenger hoped to hire some 550 journalists — it eventually hired 300 — and boasted it would eventually reach 100 million readers on a monthly basis, an ambitious target for a new publication.

To meet its lofty goal, the outlet hired Neetzan Zimmerman, a renowned traffic guru, as its chief growth officer, with the mission of quickly generating an audience from social media platforms and Google search to articles supported by direct and programmatic advertising. But the strategy led some journalists hired by The Messenger to quickly depart over frustrations that they were being tasked to write a high volume of stories — many of which were low quality articles rewriting other outlets’ reporting — in order to meet traffic goals.

By the fall, it became apparent that The Messenger’s financial health was ailing. The outlet’s former president, Richard Beckman, reportedly told staff that The Messenger was “out of money.” Reports emerged earlier this month that the struggling news publisher was looking to raise some $20 million as it laid off two dozen staffers.

To raise capital, Finkelstein met with right-wing financiers, holding discussions at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago. One such proposal offered $30 million in funding for a 51% stake in the company, which was valued at around $60 million. In essence, Finkelstein was willing to cede control of his outlet less than a year after launching in order to keep it afloat.

At the time, The Messenger refuted rumors that it was on the brink of collapse, saying it had raised over $10 million in its last funding round and would continue to increase revenue while decreasing expenses over the course of the coming year.

“I’m devastated we have ended like this, and I am sorry the last few weeks have been torturous,” Dan Wakeford, The Messenger’s editor in chief, told staff in an email Wednesday.

“The editorial team built a brand from scratch in a short amount of time and achieved our goal of creating a neutral news brand that fits perfectly into a middle lane, appealing to insiders and outsiders,” he said.

On social media, staffers reacted to the news with a mix of sorrow and disgust.

“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,” wrote Jordan Hoffman, a senior writer and critic at The Messenger.

“I just got laid off,” wrote James LaPorta, a national security reporter at The Messenger. “There is no severance. Healthcare will cease. I have to go clean out my desk from the DC office.”

By 111 Tech

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