The Messenger Internal Friction Alienates Journalists and Causes Editor to Resign, New York Times Reports

Despite tens of millions of dollars from investors and 150 journalists hired, the launch of Jimmy Finkelstein’s news site The Messenger is proving to be a disaster, as The New York Times reports that internal confusion and frustration has gripped the site’s staff in its opening week of operation.

Several anonymous journalists at The Messenger tell the NY Times that multiple breaking news teams have been assigned to write up stories based on news broken from other sites, leading to confusion on who is assigned which story. On more than one occassion, The Messenger published two versions of the same story from editors unaware of each other’s work.

This led Gregg Birnbaum, a former NBC News and Miami Herald editor who worked on The Messenger’s political team, to resign on the spot after a terse online exchange with the site’s traffic chief Neetan Zimmerman, who instructed the editors to coordinate their stories via an online form instead of on Slack and blamed Birnbaum’s team for the confusion over story assignments.

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“Who doesn’t like traffic to their news site?” Birnbaum told the Times. “But the rapacious and blind desperate chasing of traffic — by the nonstop gerbil wheel rewriting story after story that has first appeared in other media outlets in the hope that something, anything, will go viral — has been a shock to the system and a disappointment to many of the outstanding quality journalists at The Messenger who are trying to focus on meaningful original and distinctive reporting.”

Founded by former co-owner of The Hill and The Hollywood Reporter Jimmy Finkelstein, The Messenger launched this week after raising $50 million to lure journalists with offers of salaries far above established competitors.

“People are exhausted with extreme politics and platforms that inflame the divisions in our country by slanting stories towards an audience’s bias. Our talented journalists are committed to demystifying the onslaught of misinformation and delivering impartial and objective news,” editor Dan Wakeford, formerly of People, wrote in an intro message.

But The Messenger’s launch has been panned by media observers and journalists, who pointed out the site’s low standing on Google searches, its “unreadable” interface and its exclusive interview with former president Donald Trump that was dismissed by Mother Jones’ David Corn as “softball”

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“[The interview] focuses not on [Trump’s] dangerous authoritarian impulses but on the 2024 horse race and Trump’s not-so-deep thoughts about it. To call this interview a softball-fest would be an insult to anyone who has ever hit, thrown, or caught the sphere with a 12-inch circumference,” Corn wrote.

Despite the internal strife and poor reception, the Times reports that The Messenger was close to 100,000 unique visitors on Friday — meeting projections — and is expected to keep improving as its Google search engine ranking rises.

“We have delivered hundreds of pieces of great journalism and have exceeded our traffic goals,” a spokesperson for The Messenger told Times. “Our teams are successfully working through any initial issues with technology and work flow, and we are confident that these will be resolved when we fully launch next month with our verticals and advertisers.”

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