The Messenger, a yet-to-be-launched news site from media mogul Jimmy Finkelstein, is at risk of becoming a money pit run by old-school executives with “delusional” ambitions in an increasingly cutthroat business, experts say of the industry.
Finkelstein, a former co-owner of The Hollywood Reporter and The Hill, who has raised $50 million to finance the venture, said The New York Times will launch the site in May with at least 175 journalists located in New York, Los Angeles and Washington.
The 74-year-old investor said the new site, which he hopes will appeal to a broad swath of Americans like “60 Minutes” and “Vanity Fair” have done in decades past, will eventually employ about 550 journalists, nearly as many as the Los Angeles Times. .
“Any time a new website references an old magazine and TV show, you know they’re not looking to tomorrow,” said one media critic.
Another media executive took a softer approach, calling Finkelstein’s project “interesting” and “positive” for the media business which, if successful, could create new jobs and encourage competition.
“I have no doubt of his sincerity in doing so,” the source said. “Jimmy wants to matter. He is a guy who wants to talk to the president on the phone.”
Finkelstein’s No. 2 executive, Richard Beckman, a Condé Nast veteran who later served as president of The Hill, has claimed that The Messenger will generate more than $100 million in revenue next year as it attracts 100 million readers. monthly, all while making a profit.
“Revenue will be a mix of direct, programmatic and sponsorship revenue across multiple platforms,” a company spokesperson said. “Given the tremendously enthusiastic response from various partners, we have a high degree of confidence in reaching that number by the end of 2024.”
For context, the traffic figure would make the fledgling site one of the most read digital sites in the US, surpassing Conde Nast, Vox Media, and the New York Post digital network, each of which had around 83 hits. million visitors each in February, according to comscore.
The goal of achieving that in a year is not only difficult, it’s “delusional,” a longtime media executive who is close to Finkelstein and Beckman told The Post.
“It’s an illusion,” said the executive. “They are ghosts from the past. If they were a public company, I would not invest in them.”
Beckman is perhaps best known for a horrible “prank” gone awry when he tried to get two co-workers, a Vogue publicity director and a Vogue fashion director, to kiss after an ad sales meeting in 1999. .
A source who has worked with Beckman, whose aggressive business style earned him the nickname “Mad Dog”, told The Post that the north London native brings a “soccer hooligan sales approach”: aggressive and smart. , but some of his past behavior “would not fly today”.
Beckman ended up bashing the executives’ heads in and breaking their noses, forcing Conde to pay a seven-figure settlement. Beckman was forced to apologize and attend therapy.
“If they all come out of this with just a broken nose, they’ll be lucky,” a source joked.
Beckman has made numerous “pie-in-the-sky” projections of annual growth of more than $100 million at other small media properties, the source said, adding that the executive typically sells his vision with cheesy “sizzling reels” that “costs a fortune”. ” to make.
(Beckman introduced The Messenger with a sizzle that featured Dire Straits’ ’80s hit “Money for Nothing,” The Times reported.)
“Richard has had a very successful career and his reputation in the industry has been earned by generating billions of dollars in revenue,” Finkelstein said in a statement to The Post.
“He had tremendous success on Conde Nast and was just as successful when he worked with me on Prometheus and The Hill, which is why he’s here on The Messenger now.”
Finkelstein also turned to digital traffic guru Neetzan Zimmerman, who worked at Gawker Media before joining The Hill. In between those jobs, Zimmerman ran the social media app Whisper, where he became the target of a series of Guardian stories alleging the app was incorrectly tracking its users’ locations.
Zimmerman called the reports false, and The Guardian published clarifications and corrections to his reports, but Zimmerman was suspended and left the company. An internal investigation by Whisper found no wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, insiders said The Messenger, which aims to cover topics ranging from news and politics to entertainment and sports from an unbiased perspective, is having trouble attracting top talent.
Among those who have passed offers are Janice Min, whom he hired to revamp The Hollywood Reporter in 2009, former Hearst editor Joanna Coles and former Daily Beast senior editor John Avlon, sources told The Post.
Finkelstein settled on former People editor-in-chief Dan Wakeford, who left the magazine amid a broader restructuring last year, as senior editor of The Messenger. Other hires include Marty Kady, a longtime senior editor at Politico, and Mary Margaret, a former senior editor at Entertainment Weekly.
While candidates for the job say Finkelstein has been offering generous six-figure salaries, they say his plans appear “vague,” with scant details about how the team will be structured and even where reporters will work.
A handful of employees who have already signed up currently work at WeWork in midtown Manhattan, while Finkelstein runs the business from his home in West Palm Beach, Florida. The company is expected to move into an office in midtown Manhattan before launch. the sources said.
A media executive who has worked with Finkelstein called the CEO “astute” but nevertheless added that $50 million is only a fraction of the bill required to launch a premier media property.
“If Jimmy was buying a house, he would trade in the shades to bring the price down, but this is not an easy time for a new entrant,” the source said.
Sources close to Finkelstein said the tycoon has no current plans to raise more capital for the project.
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