The Messenger, a startup news outlet focused on politics and general news during its May launch, quickly put a focus on sports coverage, making waves in the industry. Soon after, in September, they landed a major coup by acquiring prominent college basketball personalities Seth Davis and Jeff Goodman. This impressive sports talent acquisition continued with the addition of Ryan Nanni (college football), Arash Markazi (sports & pop culture), Mike Tanier (NFL), Neil Paine (former FiveThirtyEight editor), Kaelen Jones (football), Christian Red (veteran New York Daily News writer), and others.
Despite this impressive roster and rapid growth, questions have lingered about The Messenger’s financial situation. Now, the digital news startup plans to shut down less than a year after licensing, according to multiple reports.
According to Axios, CEO and founder Jimmy Finkelstein’s last-ditch fundraising bid for The Messenger fell short, leaving the site vulnerable to the harsh media climate. The Messenger couldn’t secure cash, citing industry woes in a staff memo obtained by Axios.
“Unfortunately, as a new company, we encountered even more significant challenges than others and could not survive those headwinds.”
Awful Announcing learned earlier this month that Finklestein had been struggling to raise money from investors. In a meeting in January, he had told employees that he was less confident about the ability to raise $15-$20 million in the next two weeks. It was then that he said that the company wouldn’t be able to break even until August 2024 at the earliest. AA was also told that Finklestein wouldn’t give a specific timeline as to how long we can last without more funding and said it wasn’t feasible.
At the time, Jan. 5, there was no plan for further layoffs — if funding was secured — obviously, that did not happen.
The New York Times was the first to report the news:
In an email to staff, the site’s founder, Jimmy Finkelstein, said that The Messenger’s shutdown was “effective immediately.”
“This is truly the last thing I wanted, and I am deeply sorry,” Mr. Finkelstein wrote.
By closing less than a year after it launched, The Messenger will now be one of the biggest busts in the annals of online news. And its collapse is the most substantial blow in recent months to the news industry, which is reeling from an unrelenting series of cutbacks.
The organization hired about 300 people, including journalists with experience at such publications as Politico, Reuters, NBC News and The Associated Press, who joined the company in the hopes that it would deliver on its promise to introduce an important new nonpartisan voice to the American news landscape.
AA was told that most employees were kept in the dark and learned of the digital media site’s closing as everyone else did. Finklestein delivered news of the site’s immediate closing shortly to only senior editors after 4 p.m. ET. Those who were not considered “senior” employees did not receive Finkelstein’s email until after 5 p.m. ET, which it had already leaked, been shared on social media by various reporters, and shared throughout the company.
Jimmy Finkelstein delivers news of the shutdown to staff: pic.twitter.com/fNzHkigSEP
— Ben Mullin (@BenMullin) January 31, 2024
As soon as the NYT story dropped, employees asked for an explanation in the Slack channel, but EIC Dan Wakeford, who was trying to gather information, said he hadn’t heard anything.
AA obtained an email from a source that was delivered to The Messenger employees by Wakeford at around 4:38 p.m. ET:
“I’m devastated we have ended like this, and I am sorry the last few weeks have been torturous.
Please reach out to me if there is anything I can do to help, such as references, job referrals, or advice. ANYTHING. I am here for each and every one of you.
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.
You should be proud of your work. This team has been amazing, and the end result is not because of your brilliant work. The team consists of some of the top journalists in the business and has created best-in-class breakthrough work and accurate, neutral writing, reporting, and editing.
We delivered beyond expectations in just seven months – with the traffic results to prove it.
Again, I apologize. I am here for you and wish this could have ended differently.”
— Ben Mullin (@BenMullin) January 31, 2024
Several writers have started sharing their thoughts on the company shuttering, including those in the sports vertical:
lost my job on a work trip lol https://t.co/0thlKnGcVL
— Mike Renner (@mikerenner_) January 31, 2024
As y’all have probably seen, The Messenger has shuttered, so I’m a free agent again. Very grateful for my time there, even if it ended abruptly
I have experience writing NFL + college football, plus narrative podcast hosting. For those interested, hit me: firstname.lastname@example.org
— Kaelen Jones (@kaelenjones) January 31, 2024
The Messenger. Sharpie.
— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) January 31, 2024
The last thing I saw in The Messenger's slack was a panicked colleague writing "wait, what about our insurance coverage, I have a surgery boo—" and then we all got booted out!!!
— Jordan Hoffman (@jhoffman) January 31, 2024
As you probably read elsewhere, I'm no longer with The Messenger. But I am back on Substack, and I have longer thoughts on all of my wonderful sports colleagues and what is next here: https://t.co/ix1rXkSOrP pic.twitter.com/bbOYEftxGn
— Neil Paine (@Neil_Paine) January 31, 2024
My career, summarized, again. pic.twitter.com/Gia95Uacyx
— Mike Tanier (@MikeTanier) January 31, 2024