The politics editor of the Messenger quit less than one week into the launch of the troubled news startup after clashing with the news site’s chief growth officer over a mixup involving stories that were assigned to another team, according to a report.
Gregg Birnbaum, a veteran journalist whose resume includes stints at the Miami Herald and The Post, resigned in a huff after he was reprimanded by Neetzan Zimmerman, the site’s top official in charge of generating traffic, the New York Times reported over the weekend.
Journalists at the Messenger, the Jimmy Finkelstein-owned outfit that was launched with $50 million in venture capital, reportedly are chafing at management’s edict to post rewrites of stories found on other media outlets in hopes of hitting traffic goals — whose ambitious drive for 100 million online readers per month has elicited ridicule.
According to the Times, the two men came to loggerheads after Zimmerman took editors to task in a group chat about a story that was assigned to more than one team.
Zimmerman reportedly instructed the editors to avoid redundancies by having stories assigned through an online form — a suggestion that was met with resistance since the editors were accustomed to using Slack in order to delegate assignments.
When Birnbaum objected to Zimmerman’s comment, Zimmerman wrote that it was “quite simple to open the doc and check,” according to the Times.
Zimmerman is also reported to have blamed the politics team for the mixup.
“Wow, how condescending is this?” Birnbaum wrote in response, according to the Times.
“Thanks for the lecture,” he added.
Birnbaum then reportedly announced he was quitting, telling Zimmerman to find a politics editor who “doesn’t know what they’re doing so you can tell them what to do.”
Birnbaum confirmed his exit to the Times.
“Who doesn’t like traffic to their news site?” Birnbaum wrote in an email to the outlet.
“But the rapacious and blind desperate chasing of traffic — by the nonstop gerbil wheel rewriting story after story that has first appear in other media outlets in the hope that something, anything, will go viral — has been a shock to the system and a disappointment to many of the outstanding quality journalists at The Messenger who are trying to focus on meaningful original and distinctive reporting.”
The Post has sought comment from the Messenger.
Employees at the Messenger told the Times that management has circulated a “playbook” to reporters and editors who are tasked with asking themselves three questions before writing a story.
“Would I click on this? Would I read the whole thing? Would I share it?” the playbook reportedly reads.
The Messenger provided a statement to the Times that read: “We have delivered hundreds of pieces of great journalism and have exceeded our traffic goals.”
“Our teams are successfully working through any initial issues with technology and work flow, and we are confident that these will be resolved when we fully launch next month with our verticals and advertisers.”
The Messenger launched last Monday to poor reviews as media observers online complained about not being able to find the site through Google.
Other tech-savvy social media users said the site failed to grasp “the modern basics of SEO set up pre-launch.”