Growing increasingly anxious over the financial health of The Messenger, staffers at the “non-partisan” media start-up have quietly been pushing to unionize the newsroom while urging management to hold a town hall to address their myriad concerns, multiple people familiar with the situation told Confider.
Among the issues employees would like to see addressed, sources noted, are the outlet’s recent partnership with an AI firm, The Messenger president Richard “Mad Dog” Beckman’s suggestion to others that the site is “out of money,” and the internal secrecy over the site’s traffic.
Additionally, employees wonder why editor-in-chief Dan Wakeford continues to be MIA, especially with the increased bumps in the road for the site, noting that owner Jimmy Finkelstein has taken to regularly sending editors story ideas and tips, a task generally reserved for Wakeford. A Messenger spokesperson, however, contended that Wakeford still “has complete editorial control” and that Finkelstein merely “makes editorial suggestions to the team.”
Launched in May with grand promises of booming traffic and massive revenue windfalls, The Messenger saw key execs hit the exits just months into its existence, citing clashes with Beckman, who earned the nickname “Mad Dog” for his brutish management style at Conde Nast.
Meanwhile, with reporters already grousing about the reliance on “clickbait” journalism and aggregation to generate gobs of content, the newsroom was taken aback this month by the announcement that the site was partnering with Seekr, an AI company.
According to the press release, the “strategic partnership” would be used to flag “clickbait” and “eliminate bias.” Of course, that left employees confused due to the site’s embrace of sensationalized headlines but also worried that they’ll be essentially replaced by AI bots.
Adding fuel to the firestorm, sources said, was The Messenger’s very favorable story about the company two weeks before the partnership was revealed.
Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to the Confider newsletter here and have The Daily Beast media team’s stellar reporting sent straight to your inbox every Monday night.
The fallout over the collab, which staffers said they were “blindsided” by, has been made worse by internal comments from Beckman—the one who made those pie-in-the-sky promises of $100 million in revenue within the first year—that the site is struggling financially. (A spokesperson for The Messenger disputes this characterization, telling Confider that the site “is doing extraordinarily well” and expects to be profitable by the end of 2024, adding that there is “no question about us staying afloat.”)
This has resulted in staffers taking to the site’s Slack channels, and pushing for management to hold a town hall event to address these concerns. Behind the scenes, sources said, there has been a growing and active union organization effort by reporters, which could finally be openly addressed in an all-hands meeting.
Staffers have also fumed about management tightly guarding access to the site’s Chartbeat, which provides data and analytics on online traffic. According to people familiar with the matter, only senior editors have the ability to see the data, on orders of Finkelstein, prompting concerns that traffic is struggling and ad revenue is tanking, especially since the site still largely relies on low-paying programmatic advertising.
Based on Similarweb’s external traffic analysis, The Messenger currently ranks #195 among U.S. news sites, pulling in similar numbers to local Texas news stations.
Subscribe to the Confider newsletter here and have The Daily Beast media team’s stellar reporting sent straight to your inbox every Monday night.