By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The Messenger meets the Reaper

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.

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1 Comment

  1. Aaron Read

    C’mon, guys. I don’t read you because I need you to think up the questions for me. I read you to give me the answers. If The Messenger’s business model was so obviously and fundamentally flawed from the outset, then why on earth was it founded? Obviously, it wasn’t for the stated reason. More likely, it was for one of two (or both) other reasons:

    1. Unchecked ego of rich people who wanted a mini-Fox News of their own so they could feel they had the same power Murdoch has.

    2. It was a vector for some kind of political influence that would shovel more of the publics’ money towards the rich people funding it.

    I’m inclined to think the conscious idea behind it was more the second one, but it was so badly executed because really it was unconsciously more about the first one.

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