The recent spate of journalism layoffs have been staggering. It may be tempting for someone to say it's nothing new, and while depressingly true (to a point), this round has seem especially brutal.
The casualties include:
Yesterday, I learned of a new one: The Messenger.
I barely remembered it was a website, if I'm being honest, and that was likely part of its problem. It cast a wide net and made huge predictions for how successful it would be as a big-tent publication.
But the method of its closure (oh, did I mention that? Not just layoffs, but the whole site is now erased from existence) is what's catching fire on social media. We're not surprised by tweets from talented journalists doing a digital equivalent of walking past us with their meager desk contents in a sad-looking cardboard box. The Messenger seemed to be on another level though, as you can see in this screenshot of the tweet that first alerted me to its demise.
Where to start? Should it be the extremely tacky way in which employees learned about it (which is to say, from anybody but their bosses)? Or maybe it's the tightwad-ish denial of severance packages to people blindsided by the move? Or perhaps it's the ruthlessness of healthcare being shut off like water from a tap in a country that (for some reason) continues to insist our healthcare be tied to our employment? Or, or, or, maybe it's the pettiness of requiring reporters to make a special trip (presumably from D.C. to NYC) just to do the real-life version of the sad-cardboard-box walk?
And maybe you're looking at that photo, having rushed through the motions of pouring one out for the journalists, and wondering, "What's that on the right?" That's what The Messenger's Twitter feed posted just a minute before I landed on it, having been inspired by LaPorta's tweet to see what the publication actually puts out. The timing was just dumb luck, but the tweet says it all, no?
A purest might say, "Good riddance to bad rubbish," and wish the journalists well after escaping a content farm that publishes such dreck. But it's hard to fault anyone who joined the team, as many were paid above-market prices and were promised the chance to do the type of journalism so many dream to do. We've been at this digital-first journalism thing for a long time now, and it's nothing foolish to assume a successful news website can exist. It should be able to exist.
But this New York magazine story from Jordan Hoffman, who was one of those laid off, shows the type of thing he was asked to do, as a senior film writer. He makes the best of it, but chasing trending topics on Twitter (among other dubious digital strategies) is hardly a recipe for success.
I hate it for the people who trusted this place for the few months it was around. Not because they should have known better, but simply because they deserve better. The journalism market is flooded with people looking for jobs, and with any luck (and justice) in this world, most will find a soft place to land before too many of their colleagues join the free fall alongside of them.