The Messenger — a yet-to-be-launched news site from media mogul Jimmy Finkelstein — risks becoming a money pit helmed by old-school executives with “delusional” ambitions in an increasingly cutthroat business, according to industry insiders.
Finkelstein, a former part owner of The Hollywood Reporter and The Hill who has amassed $50 million to fund the venture, told The New York Times he will launch the site in May with at least 175 journalists located across New York, Los Angeles and Washington.
The 74-year-old investor said the new site, which he hopes will appeal to a wide swath of Americans like “60 Minutes” and “Vanity Fair” did in past decades, will eventually employ around 550 journalists — about as many as the Los Angeles Times.
“Whenever a new website references an old magazine and TV show, you know they are not looking towards tomorrow,” deadpanned a media critic.
Another media exec took a softer approach, calling Finkelstein’s project “interesting” and a “positive” for the media business that, if successful, could create new jobs and enliven competition.
“I have no doubt in his sincerity in doing it,” the source said. “Jimmy wants to matter. 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 later served as president of The Hill, has claimed The Messenger will generate more than $100 million in revenue next year as it lures 100 million monthly readers — all while turning a profit.
“The revenue will be a mix of direct advertising, programmatic and sponsorship revenue across multiple platforms,” a company spokesperson said. “Given the wildly enthusiastic response from a number of partners, we have a high degree of confidence about 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, beating out the likes of Conde Nast, Vox Media and the New York Post’s digital network, each of which logged around 83 million visitors each in February, according to Comscore.
The goal of achieving that in a year isn’t just difficult — it’s “delusional,” one longtime media exec who is close to Finkelstein and Beckman told The Post.
“It’s wishful thinking,” the exec said. “They are a few ghosts from the past. If they were a public company, I wouldn’t invest in them.”
Beckman is perhaps best known for a horrific “joke” gone wrong when he tried to make two coworkers — a Vogue advertising director and a Vogue fashion director — kiss after an ad sales meeting in 1999.
A source who has worked with Beckman — whose hard-charging business style earned him the nickname “Mad Dog” — told The Post that the North London native brings a “soccer hooligan’s approach to selling”: aggressive and clever, but some of his past behavior would “not fly today.”
Beckman ended up banging the executives’ heads together — and breaking one of their noses, forcing Conde to pay a seven-figure settlement. Beckman was forced to apologize and attend counseling.
“If they all emerge from this with just a broken nose, they will be lucky,” one insider quipped.
Beckman has made numerous “pie-in-the-sky” projections of $100 million-plus annual growth at other small media properties, the source said, adding that the exec usually sells his vision with cheesy “sizzle reels” that “cost a fortune” to make.
(Beckman pitched The Messenger with a sizzle reel featuring the Dire Straits’ 80s hit “Money for Nothing,” The Times reported).
“Richard has had a highly successful career and his reputation in the industry has been earned by delivering billions of dollars of revenue,” Finkelstein said in a statement to The Post.
“He achieved tremendous success at Conde Nast and was equally successful when he worked with me at Prometheus and The Hill, and that’s why he’s now here at The Messenger.”
Finkelstein also has tapped digital traffic guru Neetzan Zimmerman, who worked at Gawker Media before working at The Hill. In between those gigs, Zimmerman helmed the Whisper social media app, where he became the target of a series of stories by The Guardian, which alleged the app improperly tracked its users’ locations.
Zimmerman called the reporting lies, and The Guardian printed clarifications and corrections to its reporting, 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 lens, is having trouble attracting top talent.
Among those who have passed on offers are Janice Min, whom he hired to revamp The Hollywood Reporter in 2009, former Hearst editor Joanna Coles, and former Daily Beast top editor John Avlon, sources told The Post.
Finkelstein settled on former People editor-in-chief Dan Wakeford, who exited the magazine amid a broader restructuring last year, as The Messenger’s top editor. Other hires include Marty Kady, a longtime senior editor at Politico, and Mary Margaret, a former top editor of Entertainment Weekly.
While job candidates said Finkelstein has been dangling generous, six-figure salaries, they say his plans appear “vague,” with scant details on how the outfit will be structured and even where reporters will work.
A handful of employees who have already signed on are currently working out of a WeWork in Midtown Manhattan, while Finkelstein runs the business from his home in West Palm Beach, Fla. The company is expected to move into an office in downtown Manhattan before launch, sources said.
One media exec who has worked with Finkelstein called the CEO “shrewd,” but nevertheless added that $50 million is only a fraction of the bill required to launch a first-rate media property.
“If Jimmy was buying a house, he’d negotiate the curtains in order to lower the price, but this isn’t an easy moment for a new entrant,” the source said.
Sources close to Finkelstein said the mogul has no currrent plans to raise more capital for the project.