Executives at news startup Messenger had big ambitions in the months leading up to their public debut.they Said Starting with 175 journalists covering entertainment and politics, they could change journalism for the better and even make viewers “fall in love” with the medium all over again.
But less than a week into the game, tensions are building.
Journalists are outraged at demands to mass-produce stories based on competitors’ stories. Senior editors met with staff on Thursday to address criticism of the site. Columbia Journalism Reviewof Harvard University Niemann Institute and The Wrap, a Hollywood industry publication. Also on Friday, the political editor resigned after clashing with the company’s audience chief.
Much of the tension on The Messenger and the site’s critical coverage stems from the company’s electrifying approach to digital publishing. The company told The Times earlier this year that it was aiming to eventually reach 100 million monthly readers (which would make it one of the most read publications in the United States). ). He also said that he has hired well-known digital traffic guru Nietzan Zimmerman to achieve this goal. It achieves its aggressive goals by publishing dozens of articles per day.
“Messenger has the feel of a hastily produced publication,” says Ken Doctor, a media analyst and founder of news agency Lookout Local.
Messenger said in a statement that the site is still in early testing.
“We have delivered hundreds of outstanding journalism and exceeded our traffic goals,” it said in a statement. “Our team has successfully addressed initial issues with technology and workflows, and we are confident that these issues will be addressed when we begin working with our industry and advertisers in earnest next month. increase.”
Messenger, founded by former co-founder of The Hill and The Hollywood Reporter Jimmy Finkelstein, has raised $50 million from investors including Josh Harris, co-founder of private equity giant Apollo. In the months leading up to its debut, the company moved quickly, hiring dozens of journalists from major publications like Politico and CNN, and paying well above standard market rates, according to two people familiar with the company’s recruiting efforts. It is said that some people were attracted to
Five people familiar with the inner workings of the site, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the site has multiple teams dedicated to breaking news, leading to confusion about who is responsible for what. It is said that there is This is because company rules prohibit unauthorized interviews with the media. . Last week, Messenger published her two versions of the same article, but the editor didn’t know what her colleague was working on.
Those tensions reached a boiling point earlier in the week after one of Messenger’s news teams assigned a story that had already been assigned by another team’s editor. Zimmerman advised editors in a group chat on messaging platform Slack that they would have to use an online form to adjust article assignments. This guidance conflicted with the editor, who prefers to use Slack for story planning.
After a back and forth between Mr. Zimmerman and political editor Greg Birnbaum, Mr. Zimmerman wrote at one point that “it’s very easy to open and check the document,” and at another point the political team accused of For mixed signals, Birnbaum said enough was enough.
“Wow, how despicable is this?” Birnbaum wrote, according to a copy of his message reviewed by The New York Times. “Thank you for your lecture.” advised me to look for it.
Birnbaum, who previously worked for CNN, NBC News and the Miami Herald, admitted in an interview that he wrote the Slack message.
“Who doesn’t like traffic to news sites?” he said in an email. “But a voracious blind traffic chaser non-stop gerbil wheel rewriting article after article first published in other media in the hope that anything, anything, will go viral. was a shock and disappointment to the system’ to many of Messenger’s superior quality journalists who seek to focus on meaningful, original and distinctive reporting. “
The editors met earlier this week to discuss their concerns about the company’s mass-issue approach to publishing. The five journalists, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were frustrated by the company’s practice of allocating rewrites of competitors’ stories, a practice that media critics criticized after the site launched.
Messenger editor-in-chief Dan Wakeford said during the conference that it would take months for Messenger to build credibility, and that critics of the site were “out of context,” according to two of the five. He said he reassured his employees that he was getting things under control. The company successfully interviewed former President Donald J. Trump and first reported plans to aggressively campaign for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ Republican presidential nomination in Iowa.
Messenger has hired about 150 journalists, but fell short of its initial target, but the company is still on pace to meet its initial traffic targets, two people said. A copy of Messenger’s internal traffic dashboard, reviewed by The Times on Friday, shows that the company’s unique visitor count for the day was nearing his 100,000 mark. The company is on pace to hit its 175-employee target within weeks, said a person familiar with the company’s hiring efforts.
Messenger traffic is expected to increase in the coming weeks as it rises through Google’s search ranking algorithm, said one of five people familiar with the company’s internal affairs. The company’s focus on clicks is reflected in its employees’ “strategies” reviewed by The Times. According to the handbook, before an employee writes a story he should ask himself three questions.
“May I click this?” According to the copy, the guidelines read: “Can I read the whole thing? Can I share it?”
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