On Monday, Grid News, a one-year-old online news start-up, went dark; its articles and teal branding disappeared, and its web address redirected to a navy blue page with bright yellow text that read: “Grid has been acquired by The Messenger.”
It all happened suddenly. Last Wednesday, Grid staff got on a Zoom meeting for what some expected to be an announcement of new hires. Perhaps executives from IMI, the Abu Dhabi–based majority investor, had found a new chairman to replace Grid CEO and cofounder Mark Bauman, who departed back in November. Instead, they would learn, IMI had found a new owner: the yet-to-be launched news site by media entrepreneur Jimmy Finkelstein.
Finkelstein joined the meeting, as did his politics editor Marty Kady, but they didn’t take questions. IMI would make a minority investment in The Messenger, which is set to launch in May, as part of the deal. The acquisition came as a surprise to Grid staffers, who said they had been told their start-up, which had roughly 50 employees, had a two- to three-year runway. One staffer I spoke to hadn’t yet heard of The Messenger, the latest media start-up pitching itself as a nonpartisan alternative to what’s currently out there in a glowing announcement in The New York Times. The Gray Lady gave Grid a similar treatment when it launched last January, when the cofounders said they wanted to give readers a “fuller” picture of the news than mainstream media offered.
By the time staffers signed off the Zoom, the acquisition had already been announced to the public; Semafor’s Max Tani tweeted the press release of the deal minutes into the 10 a.m. staff call. Thus commenced roughly 72 hours of chaos: Some in the Grid newsroom left the meeting unclear whether they’d have jobs at The Messenger, or when to stop publishing, or why the acquisition was happening. Grid cofounder and executive editor Laura McGann was on the Wednesday call, but she didn’t say anything, according to two staffers. She made no public statements after the announcement, either—no one from Grid’s management did—raising some eyebrows in the industry. “My priority is figuring this out for the staff,” McGann told me. “I am not up to speed on every detail of this merger, and certainly wasn’t when it was announced, and I’m not going to put myself out there as an authoritative voice when I don’t have all the answers. Certainly the business side was taking the lead.”
Finkelstein and Kady came to Grid’s DC offices the following day to take questions; Grid staff said new leadership emphasized that their idea of a successful news model was one that’s scoopy and fast—neither of which, staffers noted, were consistent with Grid’s focus and intended mission. Some writers spent Friday downloading their articles, not knowing when they’d become inaccessible. By this week, some Grid staffers were still unclear on what they should be doing, with little to no communication from leadership at The Messenger.
Come Monday, the weekend’s episode of Succession—in which the Roy kids plan to launch a “high-visibility, execution-dependent disrupter news brand” and “bespoke information hub” called The Hundred, only to promptly abandon their start-up at the opportunity to buy a legacy media brand—felt all too poignant. (You’ve probably heard Kendall’s description by now: “Substack meets MasterClass meets The Economist meets The New Yorker.”) Grid’s end feels like a critical point in today’s venture capital–funded media landscape. There’s no shortage of media start-ups claiming to shake up the industry, getting tens of millions in funding, and building full-fledged teams. Now, the snake is starting to eat itself; left unclear is what happens to the journalism, and the writers who produce it.