On Monday, Grid News, a year-old online news startup, went offline; the articles and teal branding disappeared, and the web address redirected to a navy blue page with bright yellow text that read, “Grid has been taken over by The Messenger.”
“It all happened suddenly. Last Wednesday, Grid employees turned up at a Zoom meeting for what some expected to be an announcement of new hires. Perhaps executives at IMI, the Abu Dhabi-based majority investor, had found a new chairman to replace Grid’s CEO. replace and co-founder Mark Bauman, who left in November. Instead, they would learn that IMI had found a new owner: the media entrepreneur’s yet-to-be-launched news site Jimmy Finkelstein.
Finkelstein took part in the meeting, as did his political editor Marty Cady, IMI would make a minority investment in The Messenger, which will launch in May, as part of the deal. The acquisition came as a surprise to Grid executives, who said their start-up, which had about 50 employees, had a two- to three-year runway. One employee I spoke to had never heard of The Messenger, the media’s latest start-up touting itself as an impartial alternative to what’s currently in a glowing announcement in The New York Times. The Gray Lady gave Grid a similar treatment when it launched last January, when its co-founders said they wanted to give readers a “more complete” picture of the news than the mainstream media was providing.
By the time staffers signed off on the Zoom, the acquisition had already been announced to the public; Semafor’s Max Tani tweeted the press release from the minutes of the deal in the staff interview at 10am. Thus began about 72 hours of chaos: Some in the Grid newsroom left the meeting with unclear questions about whether they would have a job at The Messenger, or when they should stop publishing, or why the acquisition was in progress Grid co-founder and executive editor Laura McGann was on the Wednesday call, but she said nothing, according to two staffers. She also made no public statements after the announcement — none of Grid’s management did — raise some “My priority is to sort this out for the staff,” McGann told me. “I’m not aware of every detail of this merger, and certainly not when it was announced, and I’m not aware I’d put myself out there as an authoritative voice if I didn’t have all the answers. The business side certainly took the lead. “
Finkelstein and Kady showed up at Grid’s DC offices the next day to answer questions; Grid staffers said the new leadership emphasized that their idea of a successful news model was one that was creator and fast-paced — neither, the staffers noted, was consistent with the focus of Grid’s mission. Some writers spent Friday downloading their articles, not knowing when they would become inaccessible. By this week, some Grid staffers still didn’t know what to do, with little to no communication from the leadership at The Messenger.
Come Monday, the weekend’s episode of Succession-in which the Roy kids plan to launch a “visible, execution-dependent disruptive news brand” and “bespoke information hub” called The Hundred, only to immediately abandon their start-up at the possibility of using an old media brand to buy – felt all too gripping. (You’ve probably heard Kendall’s description by now: “Substack meets MasterClass meets The economist meets The New Yorkers.Grid’s end feels like a critical point in today’s venture capital-funded media landscape. There is no shortage of media startups that claim to be shaking up the industry, raising tens of millions in funding and building full-fledged teams. Now, the snake begins to eat itself; remains unclear what happens to journalism and the writers who produce it.