One week into fledgling start-up news site The Messenger’s rocky rollout, The New York Times reported this weekend that a top politics editor quit in a spat over the direction of the outlet. He was not the only staffer to resign over such tensions.
Days before the much-hyped website’s launch, Kristin Bender, a west coast breaking news editor, resigned from The Messenger. Her last day was May 11, four days before the site’s debut.
Multiple Messenger sources familiar with the situation told The Daily Beast that Bender’s exit stemmed from frustrations over the work demanded of the west coast breaking news team: an emphasis on aggregated news stories with little, if any, original reporting and a large workload that could have amounted to up to two dozen stories from the team on any given day. Those coverage objectives were not what was presented to reporters and editors upon hiring, the sources added.
Bender confirmed her resignation in a phone call with The Daily Beast. “What was presented to me as the job and what the job was was two entirely different things. I was told that this was going to be long-form journalism and all it was was aggregated content and clickbait, and to me, that’s not journalism,” she said. “I was not willing to lower my ethical standards in working for an organization that did not align with my objectives.”
“We are not prepared to comment on personnel situations,” a Messenger spokesperson told The Daily Beast in an email.
Bender, a veteran Bay Area-based reporter and editor who has worked at the Associated Press and spent decades as a newspaper reporter, was replaced by her deputy. Her exit, which has not been previously reported, came as a string of communication and coverage issues plague the start-up news outlet as it seeks to “champion balanced journalism in an era of bias, subjectivity and misinformation,” according to its website.
It was similar complaints about The Messenger’s direction that led Gregg Birnbaum to resign last Friday after a back-and-forth with chief growth officer Neetzan Zimmerman, as The New York Times reported. Those communication issues have barely gotten better throughout the second week, one Messenger source stressed.
The website has made publishing an exorbitant amount of content a focal point of its launch. In its first two days, the company published more than 400 pieces, according to the Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton. Those stories were most often an aggregation of other outlets’ work, though The Messenger has published several exclusives on topics ranging from Donald Trump to Taylor Swift’s latest romantic relationship.
Notably, however, The Messenger still does not have a search function or an ability to browse articles by section—despite its distinct focuses on “news, politics, business, finance, sports, technology, health, purpose, food, style and travel,” according to its website. It plans to add a search function next week, a source familiar with its plans said.
And, as the Nieman Lab pointed out, the digital-news website with wildly ambitious audience goals is extraordinarily difficult to find online.
Its launch was described to the Times by one analyst as a “rushed job,” one that could have begun even sooner. The Daily Beast reported on Monday that the website was initially set to launch on May 1, but its launch was pushed back two weeks to give the outlet more time to prepare.
The tumult around The Messenger’s launch has led some staffers and critics alike to suggest the website may emulate the rise-and-fall of Quibi, the much-hyped streaming service founded by entertainment titan Jeffrey Katzenberg that hosted scores of short-form content in April 2020 before shuttering just eight months later.