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Startup news site The Messenger shutters less than a year after its launch

The news outlet promised to provide “thorough, objective, non-partisan, and timely news coverage” in a time of bias and misinformation when it launched in May.
Jimmy Finkelstein seen at The Hollywood Reporter 35 Most Powerful People in Media event on Wednesday, April 11, 2012 in New York.
Jimmy Finkelstein at The Hollywood Reporter 35 Most Powerful People in Media event in New York on April 11, 2012. Evan Agostini / AP Images for The Hollywood Reporter

The Messenger, a startup digital news website that launched in May, is shutting down following reports that it was running out of money, an executive at the outlet who has been briefed on the matter told NBC News on Wednesday.

The Messenger’s website was a blank white screen with only the words “The Messenger.” in black text with an email address Wednesday evening. No articles, current or past, appeared there.

The Messenger launched in May with Jimmy Finkelstein, who previously owned The Hollywood Reporter and The Hill, at the helm. It promised to provide "thorough, objective, non-partisan, and timely news coverage" in a time of bias and misinformation.

An email that was sent to staff members signed by Finkelstein, which was seen by NBC News, said it was a "painfully hard decision" to shut down "effective immediately."

"Over the past few weeks, literally until earlier today, we exhausted every option available and have endeavored to raise sufficient capital to reach profitability," the email said. "Unfortunately we have been unable to do so, which is why we haven't shared the news with you until now."

"This is truly the last thing I wanted and I am deeply sorry."

The email included an attached "Frequently Asked Questions" document telling employees that there would be no severance and that the last paycheck would be on Jan 31. Laid-off employees would also be eligible for COBRA health coverage beginning Thursday.

Jordan Hoffman, a film critic at The Messenger, wrote on X that the last message he saw before he was kicked out of the company Slack account was from a colleague wondering about health insurance coverage for a coming operation.

"All I know is that if I were to launch a media start-up I’d be sure to rent an entire floor of a downtown Manhattan skyscraper that was 9/10ths empty all day ... and then fail to tell my employees they were laid off until they read about it in the New York Times," Hoffman wrote in another post.

Semafor reported this month that The Messenger's board was considering shutting down the website as the outlet was set to run out of money by the end of January. A spokesperson denied the claim to Semafor, saying additional funding had already been secured.

A day before staff members were informed that they were now without jobs, the New York Post reported that Finkelstein was working to secure deals to inject new revenue into The Messenger to keep the site going.

The Nieman Journalism Lab cast doubt on claims by leadership that The Messenger would deliver on its hopes to draw 100 million monthly unique visitors and eventually support a 550-person staff. A Nieman article published shortly after The Messenger launched noted that the vast majority of its content appeared to be quickly aggregated material over originally reported articles.

In one hour tracked by Nieman, The Messenger published 27 stories, in comparison to just nine at The New York Times.

News of The Messenger's end comes after a brutal month of media layoffs: The Los Angeles Times, Forbes, Time, Sports Illustrated, Tech Crunch, NBC News and Business Insider all recently announced cuts to their staffs.

Unionized workers at Condé Nast staged a single-day work stoppage last week over what the News Guild described as the company's "unlawful" negotiations over proposed layoffs.