The Messenger is shutting its doors eight months after the digital news site launched, with the startup having burned through $50 million in funding.
It was a very hard and sudden crash. The New York Times broke the news Wednesday of The Messenger’s shutdown, initially citing anonymous sources. The report caught staffers of the news outfit — which promised readers “a new kind of news” — by surprise.
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“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,” Jordan Hoffman, a senior writer and critic at The Messenger, wrote in a post on X (formerly Twitter).
As of Wednesday afternoon, The Messenger’s website had been fully wiped, showing only the logo and an email address (email@example.com). Staffers received their final paychecks and were paid for remaining vacation time but are not receiving any severance payments. “I just got laid off… there is no severance,” James LaPorta, formerly national security reporter for The Messenger, wrote on X. “Healthcare will cease. I have to go clean out my desk from the DC office.”
The Messenger launched in May 2023 and had hired some 300 employees, covering politics, business, health, technology, entertainment, international affairs, sports, travel and other areas. It was founded by Jimmy Finkelstein (pictured above), a media and publishing industry veteran who was previously a former part-owner of the Hollywood Reporter (now owned by PMC, parent of Variety) and The Hill (sold to Nexstar Media Group in 2021).
Finkelstein on Wednesday confirmed The Messenger’s shutdown to staff in a memo, which was viewed by Variety. “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. “Unfortunately, we have been unable to do so, which is why we haven’t share the news with you until now. This is truly the last thing I wanted, and I am deeply sorry.”
In the memo, Finkelstein cited economic headwinds that “have left many media companies fighting for survival.” He wrote, “Unfortunately, as a new company, we encountered even more significant challenges than others and could not survive those headwinds.”
The Messenger touted itself as an outlet for straightforward, no-nonsense reporting — its tagline was “Your Source for Trusted and Unbiased News.” Per its mission statement: “The Messenger will always include a broad spectrum of coverage that isn’t beholden to highly personalized or partisan filter bubbles.”
But the company’s model was predicated on the editorial team churning out a high volume of stories and aggregating other news sources to drive clicks.
“This company worked its news and audience reporters to the bone over the last eight months,” Eli Walsh, who was a breaking news reporter at The Messenger, wrote in a thread on X. “I wrote 630+ stories in that time, most of them were just copying and pasting work that other reporters put time and effort into, just for us to swoop in and, essentially, steal it. It was, and is, deeply embarrassing and humiliating to know that you’re ripping off your colleagues in this industry for the sake of driving traffic at any and all costs.”
Walsh added, “I don’t know what’s next right now, but I’ll tell you one thing: I have no usable clips in eight months’ time because of this editorial strategy. Zero. Not one.”
Read Finkelstein’s memo:
I am personally devastated to share that we have 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. Unfortunately, we have been unable to do so, which is why we haven’t shared the news with you until now. This is truly the last thing I wanted, and I am deeply sorry.
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. Our editorial team created and delivered an outstanding product that generated unprecedented traffic in seven months. ComScore recently announced that we reached 88 million page views in November. Under the right circumstances, I know we could have made a significant difference in today’s fragmented media landscape and country.
The industry has faced extraordinary challenges this past year. The economic headwinds have left many media companies fighting for survival. Unfortunately, as a new company, we encountered even more significant challenges than others and could not survive those headwinds. I am grateful to you and the partners who believed in our mission and came on board over the past seven months, but the reality is that we needed more capital to move forward successfully.
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