The short, predictably unsuccessful life of The Messenger was one of those media stories that I followed out of the corner of one eye. Observers I trust, like Joshua Benton of Nieman Lab, argued from the start that there was no business model in the 2020s for a free, large-scale national news outlet based on building a mass audience and selling advertising to them. After all, that’s what Facebook is for.
The end came Wednesday, less than a year after its debut. Josh Marshall, who’s built Talking Points Memo into a financially sustainable outlet for news and commentary through digital subscriptions, has an astute piece on what went wrong. He writes:
The Messenger was also a specific kind of failure. There is an uncanniness to it since it was perhaps uniquely predictable. In fact, it was so predictable it’s still a real mystery why the site was able to come into existence in the first place. This isn’t snark or crocodile tears. It’s a very strange story. This requires some explanation.
Marshall’s commentary is worth reading in full if you’re the sort who geeks out over this stuff, as I do.