Mr. Finkelstein and The Messenger’s president, magazine veteran Richard Beckman, planned to hire 550 journalists within a year, which would have put the website in a weight class with publications like The Los Angeles Times. Mr. Beckman predicted that The Messenger would generate $50 million this year. During a demo last year for The New York Times, Mr. Beckman said that he wanted The Messenger make readers “fall in love” with media again, illustrating the point with a sizzle reel scored by the Dire Straits hit “Money For Nothing.”
Mr. Finkelstein, an entrepreneur with decades of experience running publications like The Hollywood Reporter and The Hill, attracted $50 million in investments for the untested startup. The Messenger’s backers include Josh Harris, the co-founder of the private-equity giant Apollo, and Thomas Peterffy, the former chief executive of Interactive Brokers. Mr. Harris was a backer of The Hill, which Mr. Finkelstein sold to Nexstar in 2020 for $130 million.
But their money was quickly spent. Near the end of last year, the company had generated only $3 million and had just $1.8 million in cash on hand. The Messenger lost about $38 million — the majority of its initial $50 million funding round — and was spending more than $8 million on offices in Florida, Washington, D.C., and New York.
Things quickly went sour after the launch. A well-regarded politics editor, Gregg Birnbaum, quit after clashing with The Messenger’s chief growth officer, Neetzan Zimmerman. Employees grew fatigued with demands to mass-produce stories based on competitors’ articles. The site’s debut was met with a tepid reception from industry critics like Columbia Journalism Review and Nieman Lab.
Things got worse in recent weeks. Mr. Beckman announced his departure, citing health issues on a social-media post. The company began running out of money. It cut staff, attempting to husband cash. And Mr. Finkelstein made a last-ditch effort to raise money to keep the company afloat.