In the wake of the mass criticism from media around news site The Messenger, Jimmy Finkelstein is sticking up for his new venture.
“I sold The Hill a year and a half ago,” Finkelstein told Vanity Fair. “The Hill made about $18 million [in profit]. We had 120 million visits on average a month, with about 70 reporters and 90 people in the editorial department. Clearly, it wasn’t impossible, because we did it. Now we’re not only gonna have as large, if not larger, a political [audience], but we’re also gonna have sports and business and general news. So, I mean, it’s hard to imagine that we can’t do it.”
In 2021, Finkelstein’s The Hill was sold to Nextstar Media Group for $130 million. Two years later, its former owner has launched the ambitious The Messenger. The digital news media company launched with $50 million from investors and has projected that it will generate $100 million in revenue for 2024.
The site also has plans for an expansive 550-person newsroom. In the past the company has said that it plans to reach these lofty goals through “a mix of direct advertising, programmatic and sponsorship revenue across multiple platforms.”
The startup has drawn the ire of the media world. The revenue goal has been described as “delusional” and “wishful thinking.” Three editors have already left the site, which launched in May. Gregg Birnbaum, an alum from CNN and NBC News, quit in less than a week, citing the publication’s “blind desperate chasing of traffic” as a major reason for his departure.
Since its launch, the site has been described as a “bad pitch from ‘Succession,'” and business reporter Scott Nover even said, “I would dunk on The Messenger but I googled the site’s name and cannot find it.” But in his interview with Vanity Fair, Finkelstein explained the business model “nobody bothered” to ask him about.
“It is a very serious publication that will also have lots of fun articles in it,” Finkelstein said. “It won’t be like the Daily Mail.”
According to the chairman and CEO of the site, The Messenger will combine programmatic advertising with direct sales targeting “very large advertisers.” “We expect to have tens of millions of dollars in direct sales in the first year,” Finkelstein said.
In September, that will be supplemented by thought leader-driven live events in Washington. Also in the pipeline are newsletters and digital “TV shows,” which will be available to watch on YouTube and The Messenger’s site. Finally, the website will introduce the go-to money maker nearly every other media company has tried: a premium tier for paying subscribers.
While describing this plan, Finkelstein revealed that The Hill made $5 million a year in events alone, and that one of its shows — “Rising” — brought in $3 million a year for the company.
In the wide-reaching interview, Finkelstein also clarified the brand’s political stance — “not center-right” but “right down the middle” — and revealed that he has had dinner with Donald Trump after the January 6 attack on the Capitol. After the Capitol attack, Finkelstein said that he didn’t speak to the former President for a long time because “I was very upset.” He has since had dinner with Trump and seen him at two parties, but backtracked on their relationship, pointing out that he’s also friendly with Chuck Schumer and Carolyn Maloney.