“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald
By now there have been a million takes on what went wrong at The Messenger. The news site abruptly went dark earlier this week, leaving hundreds of excellent reporters stranded without severance or health insurance or even time to save their clips. It was an act of abject cruelty and incompetence, guaranteed to be pointed to by the very people who are breaking journalism as proof that journalism is broken.
There’s been plenty of snark about clickbait heds and upcycled local news, but the work done by The Messenger’s legal team was second to none. Everyone in this business relied on articles from amazing journalists like Adam Klasfeld, Steve Reilly, and Maggie Severns. And if it happened on the ground in Fulton County, Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon let us know about it.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our journalism, and in particular the legal coverage we produced over these last many months,” senior editor Darren Samuelsohn told ATL.
Samuelsohn praised Reilly for his “unique brand of investigative deep-dive reporting” and his ability to “churn out a story in seconds on any legal brief or filing, no matter its complexity.” And he called Klasfeld, a “rock star,” adding, “I’m sad that we only got the short time period we did to work together.”
He recorded a podcast with several of his former colleagues last night. Given the timing, the panel was understandably raw and honest about the week’s events.
But at least one Messenger alum has moved on from the shellshocked phase to litigation, filing a putative class action lawsuit flagged this morning by Politico.
Pilar Belendez-Desha, a former senior producer working out of the Messenger’s office in New York, filed the suit in the Southern District of New York alleging violations of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (“WARN Act”), 29 U.S.C. § 2101, and its state correlate, as well as various state labor laws. The WARN Act requires 60 days notice before mass layoffs, something which clearly did not occur here. Belendez-Desha is represented by Raisner Roupinian LLP, a boutique firm which specializes in WARN Act claims.
The named defendant is JAF Communications LLC, so named for Jimmy Finkelstein, the media magnate who launched The Messenger a year ago with promises that it would be immediately profitable and would soon rival outfits like the LA Times. Presumably, having smashed it all up, he’d now retreat into his money and leave everyone else to clean up the mess.
Belendez-Desha v. JAF Communications, Inc. [Docket via Court Listener]
Liz Dye lives in Baltimore where she produces the Law and Chaos substack and podcast.