Newsroom staffers at Jimmy Finkelstein’s the Messenger are aiming to unionize amid the startup’s embrace of AI and word that its president, Richard Beckman, has said the site is “out of money,” The Daily Beast reported.
The site launched in May with $50 million in investor backing and the stated goal of hiring a minimum of 175 journalists to produce a non-partisan digital news site that would reach 100 million monthly viewers. But it was received with withering criticism that it presented “as few ideas as possible,” and was simply aggregating stories that were “already all over the internet.”
It’s not clear how many people were hired by the outlet, but in industry circles, it’s well known that the company in recent months dangled jobs to multiple journalists, but never offered actual contracts. Those who did get hired are now “quietly … pushing to unionize the newsroom,” according to The Daily Beast.
They’re also lobbying for a company town hall to explain the Beckman’s comments, and to explain the whereabouts of Editor-In-Chief Dan Wakeford, who The Daily Beast said, “continues to be MIA.” It had reported in July that the former editor of People Magazine was “essentially ceding day-to-day newsroom duties to deputy editor Michelle Gotthelf.”
Finkelstein has “taken to regularly sending editors story ideas and tips, a task generally reserved for Wakeford,” the report said. A Messenger spokesperson told the publication that Wakeford still “has complete editorial control.”
In addition, several key executives, including it’s chief revenue officer and head of marketing, have resigned, as have a number of journalists. The Messenger did not immediately respond to messages sent Tuesday for comment.
Reporters are also worried about the company’s announcement earlier this month of a partnership with AI company Seekr. It touted Seekr’s ability to “spot instances of clickbait,” among other features, the very content that journalists are complaining the site is relying too heavily upon. Staffers are also worried that they’ll be replaced with AI bots.
The worries are compounded by the fact that management does not allow staffers access to traffic analytics on the site, suggesting concern about how many users it is drawing.
Similarweb has the site at 195th among U.S. news sites, with about 6.5 million visits per month in August, up from 4.7 million in July.