May 2, 2023 - Economy

The Messenger to launch May 15 with 150 journalists

The Messenger's anticipated headcount and traffic by vertical
Data: The Messenger; Chart: Alice Feng/Axios

The Messenger, a well-funded news startup founded by longtime media entrepreneur Jimmy Finkelstein, will launch in beta with 200 employees on May 15, the company’s president Richard Beckman told Axios. Two-thirds of that headcount will be newsroom employees.

Why it matters: The company doesn't plan to raise any additional capital outside of the $50 million it raised ahead of launch. In order to sustain its ambitious growth plans involving more than 500 additional hires, The Messenger will need to make a lot of money, quickly.

Driving the news: The Messenger’s website will launch in beta May 15 with core coverage focused on news and politics, before rolling out nine additional editorial verticals between now and the end of the year.

  • News and politics, Beckman said, "is where our reputation will be and where everything needs to be balanced, trusted, nonpartisan. ... We're going to be objective and we're going to be accurate, and we're going to be fast."
  • The other nine verticals aim to “inspire people's passions and connect them with what they love the most,” he added.
  • News and politics will launch in May, with business and entertainment slated for June and sports and tech/science for July. The remaining sections will roll out monthly through year's end.

State of play: The company has hired four new editors to lead its non-core news verticals.

  • Dan Kaufman, who served as editorial director at The Athletic, will be The Messenger's sports editor.
  • David Ewalt, who served as editor-in-chief at Gizmodo, will be the tech and science editor.
  • Amy Eisinger, who served as digital director at Self Magazine, will be the health editor.
  • Ben Goldberger, the former executive editor of Time, will serve as deputy editor and editor of The Messenger's "Purpose" vertical, which will include topics such as sustainability, diversity and inclusion and social issues.
  • Other names have already been revealed, including former People editor-in-chief Dan Wakeford, who serves as editor-in-chief; former Politico editor Marty Kady, who serves as politics editor; and Mary Margaret, former Entertainment Weekly editor-in-chief, who will serve as entertainment editor.

Be smart: The company has raised $50 million from a slew of investors, including The Stagwell Group, a D.C.-based ad holding company led by Mark Penn, and Victor Ganzi, the former CEO of Hearst.

  • Other investors include Loews CEO James Tisch, Apollo co-founder Josh Harris, and Interactive Brokers founder and chair Thomas Peterffy.
  • In acquiring Grid News in March, The Messenger took on Grid's funder, Abu Dhabi-based investment firm International Media Investments, as a minority investor.
  • Beckman said The Messenger is "not contemplating taking on any other investors at this stage. This is not one of a plan of multiple (funding) series. This is all we are planning to take on." Finkelstein and Beckman are also investors.
  • Asked whether they are eyeing more acquisitions, Beckman said, "We have access to capital for the right sort of properties. ... If the right property presented itself, we would seriously look at it."

By the numbers: Beckman expects core news and politics to represent roughly 35–40% of the company's traffic and newsroom headcount. (See chart.)

  • The company is hoping to eventually grow to 750 employees, with about 550 working in the newsroom. Beckman said they've already hired 45 people for entertainment coverage alone.
  • The company is hoping to bring in $100 million in revenue in 2024, which would be an enormous feat considering most media startups take years to grow to that scale. The majority of the company's revenue will come from digital advertising, which will be sold to marketers directly and in an automated fashion.
  • The company plans to sell newsletter and event sponsorships as well. Beckman expects The Messenger to host roughly 40 events next year. The firm recently hired Niharika Acharya to lead an events team that will grow to roughly 20 people in size.
  • Eventually, it plans to introduce some sort of a paywall around premium content, but that will not happen in its first year.

From a product perspective, the company will focus on digital-only products, with the exception of events.

  • Newsletters: The firm's weekday morning newsletter, called The Morning Messenger, will launch in mid-May. It will leverage subscribers it imported from its acquisition of Grid News' newsletters to reach 250,000 people at launch, Beckman said. The company also plans to launch a lunchtime news report and a political newsletter. Each vertical outside of news and politics will eventually have its own newsletter.
  • Video and podcasts: The company has signed leases in New York City and Washington, D.C. It plans to build video studios in both cities and eventually in Los Angeles. The video will run on The Messenger's website and social channels and will be monetized through advertising. The company doesn't have immediate plans for podcasts, Beckman said, but it plans to launch them eventually.

What to watch: The Messenger plans to launch with an ad campaign targeted to news and opinion leaders.

  • "Im looking to reach tens of thousands of the right people, not millions," Beckman said.
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