Shoot The Messenger, Not the Staff

John Battelle
2 min readFeb 1, 2024
Predictable.

I predicted the death of Jimmy Finkelstein’s The Messenger as soon as I read about its impending launch back in March of last year. At the time I had just soft-landed The Recount and was licking three decades of wounds related to launching, running, selling and shuttering digital media startups. And lo! Here was a guy claiming he was going to solve all of digital media’s woes with…what exactly? “Polyperspectivity”?! (No, really, that’s what they called their approach to news coverage.) And a business model ripped from the pages of Business Insider, circa 2012? I was already shaking my head, but then I read this:

“Richard Beckman, a former president of The Hill and Condé Nast who will be The Messenger’s president, said in an interview that the company planned to generate more than $100 million in revenue next year, primarily through advertising and events, with profitability expected that year.”

$100 million in revenue in…its first year!!? Hell, I launched the fastest growing publishing company in history, and it took us three years to get past that number -and we did it in during the biggest boom in the history of tech publishing, with a print model at its center. Then we fell off a cliff! How on earth was some random digital news startup going to… Oh, wait. They weren’t. Dudes were utterly fooling themselves, fooling their credulous investors, and worst of all, fooling the hundreds of (mostly young) journalists they hired to execute this madness.

And it’s those staffers that I feel terrible for today. Apparently, Finkelstein kept his team in the dark, and they had to find out they all lost their jobs by reading it in the Times. Worst of all, Finkelstein mismanaged his $50 million in funding so badly, he didn’t reserve enough to even pay them severance. That’s unconscionable. I’ve had to manage several businesses through restructure, fire sale, or wind-down, and the absolute worst things you can do are first, to keep your employees in the dark, and second, fail to take care of them, as best you can, if you have to let them go. The Messenger may go down in the annals of media history as the fastest and largest failure in the miserable, short history of Made For Advertising news sites, but I hope future media historians will also remember this: It was run by an asshole who refused to take care of his people.

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John Battelle

A Founder of The Recount, NewCo, Federated Media, sovrn Holdings, Web 2 Summit, Wired, Industry Standard; writer on Media, Technology, Culture, Business