Critics tear up Jimmy Finkelstein’s media startup The Messenger

The Messenger — a yet-to-be-launched news site owned by media mogul Jimmy Finkelstein — is in danger of becoming a money pit run by old-school executives with “delusional” ambitions in an increasingly murderous business, according to industry insiders.

Finkelstein, a former associate of The Hollywood Reporter and The Hill who has amassed $50 million to fund the company, told the New York Times he will launch the site in May with at least 175 journalists in New York, Los Angeles and Washington.

The 74-year-old investor said the new website, which he hopes will appeal to a wide range of Americans like 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair have done for decades, will eventually employ around 550 journalists — about as many as the Los Angeles Times.

“Whenever a new website links to an old magazine or TV show, you know they’re not looking to the future,” said one media critic.

    Jimmy Finkelstein and Pamela Gross attend The Hollywood Reporter Celebrates The Most Powerful People In Media on April 11, 2019 in New York City.
Jimmy Finklestein, pictured wife Pamela Gross, has raised $50 million to build a news site that will employ 550 journalists.
Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

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 stimulate competition.

“I have no doubt about his sincerity in doing so,” the source said. “Jimmy wants to be important. He’s a guy who wants to get the President on the phone.”

Finkelstein’s No. 2 executive Richard Beckman, a Condé Nast veteran who went on to be president of The Hill, has claimed The Messenger will generate more than $100 million in revenue over the next year as it attracts 100 million monthly readers – and made a profit.

“Revenues will be a mix of direct advertising, programmatic and sponsorship revenue across multiple platforms,” ​​a company spokesman said. “Based on the overwhelmingly enthusiastic response from a number of partners, we are very confident of reaching this number by the end of 2024.”

For comparison, the traffic number 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, which each saw around 83 million visitors in February, according to Comscore.

Richard Beckman
Finklestein tapped his longtime business partner Richard Beckman to help him run The Messenger.

Aiming to do that in a year is not only difficult — it’s “delusional,” a longtime media executive close to Finkelstein and Beckman told The Post.

“That’s wishful thinking,” said the CEO. “They’re some ghosts from the past. If they were a public company I wouldn’t invest in them.”

Beckman is perhaps best known for a horrifying “joke” that went awry when he tried to get two colleagues — a Vogue advertising director and a Vogue fashion director — to kiss after an advertising sales meeting in 1999.

A source who has worked with Beckman – whose heavy-handed business style earned him the nickname “Mad Dog” – told The Post that the north London native brings a “football hooligan approach to sales”: aggressive and clever, but something from his past behavior would “not fly today”.

Dan Wakeford
The Messenger has tapped Dan Wakeford, a former editor-in-chief of People Magazine, to head up the new venture.
NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

In the end, Beckman banged the heads of the executives – and broke one of their noses, forcing Conde to pay a seven-figure severance package. Beckman was forced to apologize and attend a deliberation.

“If they all walk away with just a broken nose, they’re in luck,” joked an insider.

Beckman has made numerous “pie-in-the-sky” forecasts of over $100 million in annual growth at other small media companies, the source said, adding that the executive typically sells his vision with cheesy “sizzle reels,” that “cost a fortune”. ” close.

(Beckman introduced The Messenger with a sizzle reel of Dire Straits’ ’80s hit “Money for Nothing,” The Times reported).

Jonathan Farkas and Jimmy Finkelstein attend George Farias, Anne & Jay McInerney Host Christmas Party at Doubles Club on December 13, 2018 in New York City.  (Photo by Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
Jonathan Farkas (left) and Jimmy Finkelstein (right) sold his political website The Hill to Nexstar in 2021 for $130 million.
Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

“Richard has had a hugely successful career and his reputation in the industry has been built on billions of dollars in revenue,” Finkelstein said in a statement to The Post.

“He achieved tremendous success on Conde Nast and was equally successful working with me on Prometheus and The Hill, and that’s why he’s here on The Messenger now.”

Finkelstein also tapped digital traffic guru Neetzan Zimmerman, who worked at Gawker Media before joining The Hill. Between those appearances, Zimmerman ran the social media app Whisper, where he became the target of a series of stories from The Guardian alleging the app wasn’t properly tracking its users’ locations.

Zimmerman called the reporting lies, and The Guardian printed explanations and corrections to his reporting, but Zimmerman was suspended and left the company. An internal investigation by Whisper found no wrongdoing.

Max Azria and Richard Beckman during RISING STYLE a Celebration of Fashion and Music in Las Vegas at The Joint in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Beckman (right) with Max Azaria (left) said he expects The Messenger to gross over $100 million next year.

Meanwhile, insiders said The Messenger, which aims to cover everything from news and politics to entertainment and sports from an unbiased lens, is struggling to attract top talent.

Among those who have passed offers include Janice Min, whom he hired to revamp The Hollywood Reporter in 2009, former Hearst editor Joanna Coles and former Daily Beast editor-in-chief John Avlon, sources told The Post.

Finkelstein chose former People editor-in-chief Dan Wakeford, who left the magazine last year as part of a broader restructuring, as top editor of The Messenger. Other new hires include Marty Kady, a longtime managing editor at Politico, and Mary Margaret, a former top editor at Entertainment Weekly.

While job candidates have said Finkelstein has dangled generous six-figure salaries, they say his plans appear “vague,” with scant details about how the outfit will be structured and even where reporters will work.

People Magazine Editor-in-Chief Dan Wakeford (L) and Jennifer Aniston attend PEOPLE's annual Screen Actors Guild Awards Gala at the Shrine Auditorium on January 19, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images for PEOPLE)
Wakeford, seen here with Jennifer Anniston, has been busy hiring a slew of journalists ahead of The Messenger’s launch in May.
Getty Images for PEOPLE

A handful of employees who have already signed up currently work at a WeWork in midtown Manhattan, while Finkelstein runs the business from his home in West Palm Beach, Fla. The company is expected to move to an office in downtown Manhattan before launch. sources said.

A media executive who worked with Finkelstein called the CEO “smart,” but still added that $50 million is just a fraction of the bill it takes to launch a world-class media company.

“If Jimmy were to buy a home, he would negotiate the curtains to bring the price down, but this isn’t an easy moment for a newcomer,” the source said.

Sources close to Finkelstein said the mogul currently has no plans to raise more capital for the project. Critics tear up Jimmy Finkelstein’s media startup The Messenger

Emma Bowman

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