Jimmy Finkelstein’s media startup The Messenger rips off ‘mock’ business plan
The Messenger — a yet-to-be-launched news site from media mogul Jimmy Finkelstein — risks becoming a money pit run by old-school managers with “delusional” ambitions in an increasingly dour business, according to industry insiders.
Finkelstein, a former part owner at The Hollywood Reporter and The Hill who raised $50 million to fund the project, said. New York times The site will launch in May with no less than 175 journalists across New York, Los Angeles and Washington.
The 74-year-old investor said the new site, which he hopes will appeal to as broad a cross-section of Americans as “60 Minutes” and “Vanity Fair” did in decades past, will eventually employ about 550 journalists — roughly as many as the Los Angeles Times.
“When a new website mentions an old magazine and TV show, you know they’re not looking forward to tomorrow,” says a deadpan media critic.
Another media executive took a softer approach, calling Finkelstein’s project “interesting” and “positive” for the media business that, if successful, could create new jobs and revitalize competition.
“I have no doubts about his sincerity in doing so,” the source said. “Jimmy wants to be important. He’s a guy who wants to get the boss on the phone.”
Finkelstein’s No. Richard Beckmann, a veteran Condé Nast executive who later served as president of The Hill, claimed that The Messenger would generate over $100 million in revenue next year if it drew 100 million monthly readers—all while turning a profit.
“The revenue will be a mix of direct advertising, program and sponsorship revenue across multiple platforms,” a company spokesperson said. “Given the very enthusiastic response from a number of partners, we have a high degree of confidence of reaching this 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 United States, beating out the likes of Conde Nast, Vox Media, and the New York Post digital network, which each log some 83 million visitors. February, according to comScore.
The goal of making it happen in a year isn’t just difficult — it’s “delusional,” a longtime media executive close to Finkelstein and Beckmann told The Post.
“It’s wishful thinking,” said the CEO. “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 terrible “joke” gone wrong When he tries to get two coworkers—Vogue’s advertising director and Vogue’s fashion director—to kiss after an ad sales meeting in 1999.
A source who has worked with Beckman – whose hard-hitting business style has earned him the nickname ‘Mad Dog’ – told The Post the north London native brings the “sales football hooligan style”: aggressive and intelligent, but some of his past behavior “doesn’t fly today”.
Beckman ended up bashing the executives’ heads together — and breaking one of their noses, forcing Condi to pay a seven-figure settlement. Beckmann was forced to apologize and attend counseling.
An insider quipped, “If they all come out of this with a broken nose, they’re out of luck.”
Beckman has offered several “pie-in-the-sky” projections of more than $100 million annual growth at other small media sites, the source said, adding that the CEO usually sells his vision with “appetizing reels” that “cost a fortune.” to make.
(Beckman pitched The Messenger with a raucous reel featuring Dire Straits’ 1980s hit “Money for Nothing,” The Times reports.)
“Richard has had a very successful career and his reputation in the industry has been built on by generating billions of dollars in revenue,” Finkelstein said in a statement to The Post.
“He was hugely successful at Conde Nast and was equally successful when he worked with me on Prometheus and The Hill, which is why he’s now here on The Messenger.”
Finkelstein also hired digital traffic guru Neetzan Zimmerman, who worked at Gawker Media before working on The Hill. In between those gigs, Zimmerman ran social media app Whisper, where it became the target of a series of stories from The Guardian, which alleged that the app improperly tracked its users’ locations.
Zimmerman called the reports lies, and the Guardian printed clarifications and corrections to their 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 perspective, is having trouble attracting top talent.
Among those who turned down offers were Janis Maine, 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 has settled on former People editor-in-chief Dan Wakeford, who left the magazine amid a broader restructuring last year, as editor-in-chief of The Messenger. Other hires include Marty Cady, a longtime senior editor at Politico, and Mary Margaret, a former senior editor at Entertainment Weekly.
While the job candidates said Finkelstein has been hanging generous six-figure salaries, they say his plans appear “vague,” with scant details about how the outfit is organized and even where reporters work.
The few employees already signed to WeWork currently work in midtown Manhattan, while Finkelstein runs the business from his home in West Palm Beach, Florida. Sources said the company is expected to move to a midtown Manhattan office prior to its launch.
One media executive who worked with Finkelstein called the CEO “clever,” but added nonetheless that $50 million is only a fraction of the bill required to launch a top-tier media property.
“If Jimmy was buying a house, he would negotiate the curtains to bring the price down, but this is not an easy moment for a newcomer,” said the source.
Sources close to Finkelstein said Kotb had no current plans to raise more capital for the project.