Jimmy Finkelstein, in a hurried endeavor, constructed a rocket ship named The Messenger, staffed it with 300 individuals promising great achievements, ignited the fuse, and then retreated when it failed to even reach orbit.
The aftermath is substantial, with Finkelstein and his team, which included seasoned journalists from reputable outlets, failing to offer support to the stranded crew.
No severance was provided after abrupt layoffs, leaving the staff without any assistance. The remnants of the venture are now reduced to a lifeless page with the inscription “TheMessenger.” and an email address. Surprisingly, the affected reporters learned about their termination not from management but by reading the New York Times.
Finkelstein is now cast as the antagonist in this debacle, with former employees filing a class-action lawsuit against the defunct publication for neglecting to give notice of dismissal.
Critics, like S. Mitra Kalita of URL media, have accused Finkelstein of building The Messenger on the “expertise of an internet that no longer exists.” The collapse of The Messenger, amidst a recent wave of layoffs and cutbacks in the news industry, has intensified the prevailing pessimism within newsrooms.
However, it’s essential to distinguish The Messenger’s unfortunate story from the broader context of ongoing challenges in the news business. One amendment to consider is that, due to self-interest, the news industry tends to over-report layoffs within its sector while underreporting job losses elsewhere.
The recent stories about the Wall Street Journal laying off 20 staffers in its D.C. bureau exemplify this phenomenon, where similar-sized layoffs in other industries might not garner the same attention.
The Messenger’s demise, though contributing to the prevailing pessimism in newsrooms, should not be solely attributed to the industry contraction.
Finkelstein’s treatment of employees, both at the beginning with unfulfilled promises and at the end with abrupt dismissals, adds complexity to the narrative. To understand the full scope of The Messenger’s fall, a comprehensive post-mortem is necessary.
One key factor is Finkelstein’s risky entry into a market saturated with competitors. The Messenger faced fierce competition from various outlets, including POLITICO, The Hill, Axios, and others.
Finkelstein’s audacious promises, like hiring 550 journalists and generating $50 million in revenue in the first year, remained unfulfilled, contributing to the demise of the publication.
Finkelstein, with prior experience in founding The Hill, attempted to replicate his success but encountered significant challenges this time. The Messenger’s failure indicates that, without a major innovation, Washington news may have reached its peak with no discernable gaps to fill.
While The Messenger displayed signs of potential during its initial months, Finkelstein’s extravagant promises led to overpromising and underdelivering. The venture, initially thought to work out its kinks, ultimately succumbed, reminiscent of a Silicon Valley startup making grand promises but delivering only disappointment.
The painful lesson from The Messenger is that even seasoned journalists, known for their skepticism, failed to sense the unrealistic nature of Finkelstein’s promises. In hindsight, the emissions from Finkelstein’s venture, initially smelling like Chanel No. 5, now appear more dubious.