Troubled digital media startup The Messenger will shut down operations less than a year after its much-ballyhooed launch, suddenly leaving nearly 300 employees out of a job, a source with knowledge told The Daily Beast.
In an email sent to staff on Wednesday afternoon, owner Jimmy Finkelstein said he was “personally devastated” to announce that The Messenger would be shutting down “effective immediately.” He added that he had “exhausted every option available” to secure enough funding to keep the site up
By far the greatest damage to the news ecosystem over the past 20 years has been at the local level. Nearly all of the 2,900 newspapers that have closed or merged since 2005 have been small weeklies, according to researchers at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. This has left broad swaths of the country lacking professional reporting of any kind. The death rate among daily papers has been less extreme, if only because many continue to exist in greatly diminished form. One example: Denver’s two primary dailies, the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post, employed more than 600 journalists before the Rocky went under in 2009. Ever since, the Post has been peeled like an onion by its owner, the hedge fund Alden Global Capital. Today, its newsroom directory lists just 59 journalists, who are tasked with covering a region that is home to nearly 3 million people.
“As local journalism declines, government officials conduct themselves with less integrity, efficiency, and effectiveness and corporate malfeasance goes unchecked,” observed PEN America in a 2019 white paper. “With the loss of local news, citizens are: less likely to vote, less politically informed, and less likely to run for office.” Not all citizens, though. A weakened local press corps is a gift to someone like George Santos, whose serial fabrications went mostly (if not entirely) unreported during his campaign for Congress.
The outlook for 2024 seems especially cloudy to Sewell Chan, the editor in chief of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit publication that has been held up as a sustainable news-business model. Chan told me that the past year has been as gloomy for the news industry as 2008–09, the start of the Great Recession, when a number of titles went under. “I fear 2023–24 could be another extinction-level event,” he said.