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March 30, 2023, 2:55 p.m.

Buying Grid gives The Messenger a boost in social, not just in staffing its newsroom

With the brand comes more than 80,000 followers on social media — roughly 80,000 more than The Messenger had before.

The Messenger’s purchase of Grid last week raised some eyebrows, at least in the small community of people who could tell you what both The Messenger and Grid are. (Or, in Grid’s case now, used to be. Its website was taken down Monday.)

To the extent that anyone knows what The Messenger will be — “a combination between the Washington Post and Daily Mail“? “scoopy and fast“? “appeals to supporters of Donald Trump…and to Democrats”? — Grid doesn’t seem like its most natural mate. But it does help with one of The Messenger’s most pressing challenges — gaining scale quickly.

The New York Times reported three weeks ago that The Messenger would be launching in May (!) with “at least 175 journalists” (!!) on its way to a newsroom of “around 550 journalists” in a year (!!!) and “more than $100 million in revenue” in 2024 (!!!!).

Those numbers are…ambitious. I’m unaware of any digital news startup that has launched with a newsroom of anything close to 175 journalists. The Messenger says it will cover “politics, business, entertainment and sports”; this is no single-subject news site. And May 1 is 32 days away.

LinkedIn is, of course, an incomplete window into the staffing of any company, especially a new one. (Not everyone uses it, and not everyone updates when they get a new job.) But at the moment, LinkedIn lists 30 employees at The Messenger, and they are overwhelmingly C-suite executives or on the business side. Meanwhile, on the company’s open job listings, 13 of the 16 open positions are in editorial. (All 12 of the jobs it currently has posted on LinkedIn are also in editorial. Listed salaries for reporters are in the $65,000 to $100,000 range.) I haven’t been able to find a single reporter on Twitter who has identified themselves as a Messenger hire, only a handful of editors. [Update: I missed Marc Caputo!]

So buying Grid and its 30ish journalists helps fill the newsroom. (The Messenger has said it will retain the “vast majority of Grid’s editorial team.”)

But it also gives The Messenger a jumpstart in distribution. Grid reportedly had more than 200,000 subscribers to its daily email newsletter; those will no doubt soon be getting morning emails from The Messenger.

And as I noticed yesterday, The Messenger is also using Grid to boost its social media presence. The Messenger’s Twitter account had a meager audience pre-Grid, with only about 200 followers. But with the purchase, it has now swapped Grid’s Twitter account with its own — meaning @gridnews’s 32,800 followers now follow @TheMessenger instead, while @TheMessenger’s 262 followers have been moved to an emptied-out @gridnews.

@TheMessenger now says its account was created in October 2021 (when @gridnews was born), while @gridnews says it was created in February 2023 (when @TheMessenger was born). And all 12,000-plus tweets sent from the @gridnews account now appear as though they were sent by @TheMessenger.

(Of course, all those 12,000-plus tweets also link to Grid stories that are no longer online, since The Messenger took the site down. The plan is to bring them back once The Messenger launches.)

I imagine they’ll execute a similar switcheroo on Facebook as well, where Grid has 50,000 followers and The Messenger has 28, but they haven’t as of this moment.

To be clear, there’s nothing inappropriate about this; it’s as straightforward as changing a Twitter handle and a thoroughly reasonable decision. But it does give a little insight into why a seemingly odd match like Grid might have been appealing to The Messenger. It offered a boost not only in editorial staffing but also in distribution and audience.

Now the question will be: Will Grid’s smallish wonky audience be interested in what The Messenger is putting out? That we won’t know until May. Which, again, starts in 32 days.

Joshua Benton is the senior writer and former director of Nieman Lab. You can reach him via email (joshua_benton@harvard.edu) or Twitter DM (@jbenton).
POSTED     March 30, 2023, 2:55 p.m.
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