US economy

‘I just got laid off’: news startup the Messenger abruptly shutters after a year

The Messenger, a news startup launched last year with a $50m investment and a nonpartisan perspective, is shutting down, according to multiple news reports.

In a staff email, the publication’s founder, Jimmy Finkelstein, wrote that the company had pursued all options “over the past few weeks, literally until last night” but made the “painful” decision to shut down the site effective immediately after failing 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,” the email said. “This is truly the last thing I wanted, and I am deeply sorry.”

Within hours, the Messenger’s website had been wiped blank, shocking the publication’s hastily laid-off reporters, who had been trying to share links to their work as they suddenly searched for new jobs. Former Messenger journalists and writers from other news organizations criticized the company’s owners for the swift website takedown, calling it disrespectful to former employees.

A homepage that hours before had featured dozens of news, business and entertainment headlines later read only “TheMessenger”, with a generic email address.

The company once had grand ambitions, projecting it would bring in $100m in revenue in 2024 after bringing in only $3m in 2023. Potential investors were informed the company had only $1.8m in cash near the end of last year, according to the New York Times.

The Messenger went through most of the $50m it had raised before launching. The news took some of the 300 reporters, many of whom had been hired from national outlets, by surprise. Some tweeted that they had found out the site was shutting down from news reports.

How unfortunate to learn The Messenger would shut down via the New York Times. I am saddened because so many journalists did great work, but particularly the stellar politics team that I worked with. We consistently broke news, were on the trail, and made a name for the…

— Adrian Carrasquillo (@Carrasquillo) January 31, 2024

Many employees were left with little information about the shutdown. Some tweeted that they would not be receiving severance and that their insurance would be cut off. Even the site’s editor-in-chief, Dan Wakeford, had not been aware the site was shutting down, according to the Daily Beast.

“I am not in the loop. Trying to find out now,” he wrote in an internal Slack message.

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

In the staff email, Finkelstein blamed the abrupt shutdown on economic headwinds, according to Axios: “Unfortunately, as a new company, we encountered even more significant challenges than others and could not survive those headwinds.”

But some of the journalists briefly employed at the publication suggested there was more to criticize, including the amount of money the company had spent on its corporate offices. The New York Times reported it had spent $8m on multiple offices, including in New York and Washington DC.

Jordan Hoffman, a senior writer and critic for the site, compared the company’s run to the disastrous Fyre music festival, which was chronicled in several documentaries, writing: “I can’t wait for the Hulu series about The Messenger dot com. You won’t believe some of the wacky shit that went down there.”

I just got laid off. One would expect to learn this news from their employer but instead, @TheMessenger employees learned of it via @nytimes and @semafor – there is no severance. Healthcare will cease. I have to go clean out my desk from the DC office.

— James LaPorta (@JimLaPorta) January 31, 2024

The shutdown comes amid weeks of bad media news. The Los Angeles Times recently laid off more than 100 reporters, followed by Time and Insider. The Wall Street Journal announced a restructuring on Wednesday that would result in a number of layoffs in its DC bureau.

The Messenger had laid off two dozen reporters earlier this month, but the New York Times had reported the company was in the middle of raising money to maintain its operations through the end of the year.


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