August 9, 2022

Big media news Monday. The New York Times’ Benjamin Mullin had the scoop: “Axios Agrees to Sell Itself to Cox Enterprises for $525 Million.”

Axios burst onto the scene in 2017 and quickly became known for its political coverage, newsletters and its “Smart Brevity” style in which articles were condensed to just the facts and essential points out of respect for a reader’s time. And that style quickly became a reader favorite. In addition, as Mullin wrote, “Jonathan Swan, Axios’s national political correspondent, gained attention for his probing on-camera sitdowns with (President Donald Trump) and White House officials, and newsletters from journalists such as Dan Primack and Sara Fischer captured the attention of the business set.”

I’ll get to why it made sense for Axios in a moment. But what’s in it for Cox? Cox Enterprises Chairman and CEO Alex Taylor told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s J. Scott Trubey, “We invested in Axios because we’re just passionate about journalism and covering the news. … Axios is an exciting company. I think they operate the best national platform in the country, and they have the fastest-growing local platform.”

That local platform has become a key part of Axios’ strategy. My colleague Rick Edmonds, Poynter’s media business analyst, wrote about Axios Local, newsletters that concentrate on local news. It would appear that Cox is committed to continuing that drive. Publisher Nick Johnston told Edmonds, “Our goal of 100 cities is in reach. I have a list of 384 metropolitan areas in my office, and we cross them off one by one.”

Johnston added that Axios will reach its goal of launching 24 city-specific weekday newsletters ahead of schedule when Houston and Miami go live Monday.

So back to the Axios part of this. Why sell and why sell now?

Edmonds wrote, “There comes a time in the life of most digital startups to cash out and/or look to a bigger parent for the next round of investments in growth. Fast-format Axios got to that juncture quickly.”

It also helps to get a good deal — one too good to pass up.

Mullin wrote, “Axios is selling at roughly five times its projected 2022 revenue of more than $100 million, according to a person who was familiar with a presentation that Axios made to its board. The company was profitable for the last three years but is not expected to be profitable in 2022, partly owing to investments in HQ, its communications software division, the person said.”

Jim VandeHei, Axios’ chief executive and one of the co-founders, told Mullin that the timing of the sale was because Axios found a buyer that was committed to journalism and would pay a fair price. The Wall Street Journal’s Alyssa Lukpat, Lillian Rizzo and Jessica Toonkel wrote, “The money from the deal will allow Axios to hire more staff, the person familiar with the deal said, particularly for its local coverage and its Axios Pro verticals.” The Journal also wrote, “Cox, which became a big Axios investor last year, initiated buyout negotiations around January, a person familiar with the deal said.”

Mullin wrote, “Mr. VandeHei said it was also important to him that any deal allowed the management team to remain in place, because he was not planning to step aside anytime soon.”

VandeHei, Axios president Roy Schwartz and journalist Mike Allen will all stay with the company.

As far as Cox — which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Dayton (Ohio) Daily News, as well as cable TV and broadband businesses —  Trubey wrote, “In recent years, Cox sold majority stakes in its television and radio stations, though it maintains minority shares. The Axios deal thrusts Cox back into the national media landscape at a time when the company has sought to overhaul and diversify its businesses.”

So could this all be good news for local news? One can only hope. I encourage you to read Edmonds’ story for a good analysis of what the sale could mean moving forward.

Tough times at Gannett

I wanted to highlight another piece by my Poynter colleague Rick Edmonds. He pointed out some interesting numbers from the second quarter earnings reports involving two major media outlets. The New York Times reported an operating profit for the second quarter of $76 million. Gannett, meanwhile, posted an operating loss of $54 million.

So Edmonds wrote a story with four reasons why the Times prospered while Gannett struggled. He closed with the ominous warning that layoffs are coming this week at Gannett, with perhaps as much as a 10% payroll reduction at many of its properties. Edmonds wrote, “For Gannett to weather this downturn and get back on a path of financial success on its own terms does not require outdoing The New York Times (currently valued by Wall Street at 10 times as much). However, it will mean Gannett digging itself out of a deep hole – and maintaining news products still worth paying for — after yet another round of cuts.”

Another strong piece

Donald Trump at a rally in Wisconsin last week. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

In case you missed it, in Monday’s Poynter Report, I highlighted the work of The Atlantic’s Caitlin Dickerson in “‘We Need To Take Children Away’” — a 30,000-word piece that exposes the family separation policy during the Trump administration. It’s a gut-wrenching and infuriating story that can be difficult to read, but it’s too important to not read.

Today, here’s another highly recommended piece involving former President Donald Trump. The New Yorker ran an excerpt from a book due out next month from The New Yorker’s Susan B. Glasser and The New York Times’ Peter Baker. The excerpt, “Inside the War Between Trump and His Generals,” is from the book “The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021.”

Glasser and Baker wrote, “The four years of the Trump Presidency were characterized by a fantastical degree of instability: fits of rage, late-night Twitter storms, abrupt dismissals. At first, Trump, who had dodged the draft by claiming to have bone spurs, seemed enamored with being Commander-in-Chief and with the national-security officials he’d either appointed or inherited. But Trump’s love affair with ‘my generals’ was brief, and in a statement for this article the former President confirmed how much he had soured on them over time. ‘These were very untalented people and once I realized it, I did not rely on them, I relied on the real generals and admirals within the system,’ he said.”

One time, according to Glasser and Baker, Trump complained to his chief of staff, John Kelly, who was a retired Marine Corps general:

“You (expletive) generals, why can’t you be like the German generals?” Trump said.

Kelly asked, “Which generals?”

Trump said, “The German generals in World War II.”

“You do know that they tried to kill Hitler three times and almost pulled it off?” Kelly said.

Trump never knew that and told Kelly, “No, no, no, they were totally loyal to him.”

Does anything that you read about the Trump White House surprise you anymore?

But you should still read the compelling excerpt from Glasser and Baker’s book.

Speaking of Trump

Big news Monday evening when the former president confirmed that the FBI raided his Mar-A-Lago resort in Florida. In a statement, Trump said, “My beautiful home, Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, is currently under siege, raided, and occupied by a large group of FBI agents.”

Trump was not in Florida at the time. It’s reported that he was in New York. More will come in the days ahead, but check out this story from The Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett, Mariana Alfaro and Josh Dawsey. The Post wrote, “A person familiar with the investigation said agents were conducting a court-authorized search as they probe the potential mishandling of classified documents that were shipped to Mar-a-Lago. Such a move — a court-ordered search of Trump’s property to look for possible evidence of a crime — is deeply unusual for a former president. It represents a historic moment in Trump’s tortured relationship with the Justice Department, both in and out of the White House.”

The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, Ben Protess and Adam Goldman wrote that the FBI broke open a Trump safe, adding “an account that, if accurate, would be a dramatic escalation in the various investigations into the former president.”

By the way, this should be noted. The story of the FBI raid on Mar-A-Lago was actually broken by Peter Schorsch, who runs a website called Florida Politics. Before news had broken anywhere else, Schorsch tweeted Monday evening, “Scoop — The Federal Bureau of Investigation @FBI today executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, two sources confirm to @Fla_Pol. ‘They just left,’ one source said. Not sure what the search warrant was about. TBH, Im not a strong enough reporter to hunt this down, but its real.”

And more Trump …

Check out Axios’ Mike Allen with “Exclusive photos: Trump’s telltale toilet.”

In her upcoming book, The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman wrote that White House staff used to find wads of paper clogging up the toilet and believed that Trump was flushing Oval Office documents. Trump said his flushing papers down the toilet was a “fake story.”

But now Allen has photos that he says Haberman shared with him.

Haberman’s much-anticipated book — “Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America” — is due out Oct. 4.

One more thought on Trump. This from USA Today columnist Carli Pierson: “Don’t believe Trump and the GOP: Biden and the Democrats are winning.”

Media tidbits

  • Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo has a major profile in his exclusive piece: “Rachel Maddow gives her first interview as she steps back from the nightly grind and revs up for her next act.” It also includes some stellar photos (Maddow swinging an ax?) from the legendary Annie Leibovitz.
  • NPR’s Danielle Kurtzleben with “Republicans have long feuded with the mainstream media. Now many are shutting them out.”
  • The New York Times-Washington Post rosters continue to switch players. The latest? Post nonfiction book critic Carlos Lozada is leaving the Post to join the Times as an Opinion columnist. Lozada’s new gig starts in September. Lozada won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 2019 and was a finalist in 2018. In a note announcing the hire, Times Opinion editors Kathleen Kingsbury and Patrick Healy wrote, “It can be difficult in journalism to do something truly distinctive. It’s even harder to pull that off consistently at unparalleled levels of excellence. In his explorations of ideas, culture and text, Carlos Lozada has achieved both, to award-winning results that have delighted readers for years.”
  • New York Times contributing writer Rachel L. Swarns writes about a compelling topic — old newspaper ads — in “The Search for a Meaningful Clue to the Mystery of an Enslaved Ancestor.”
  • CNN’s Oliver Darcy with “Alex Jones’ texts have been turned over to the January 6 committee, source says.”
  • Gannett has named Romi Ruiz-Goiriena the White House editor for USA Today. Ruiz-Goiriena joined USA Today as a national enterprise reporter in 2020. She previously worked at The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald. She also has done work for CNN and The Associated Press. In a statement, Ruiz-Goiriena said, “As an editor, my aim is for our coverage to be reflective of the people we serve. Our readers should feel like we’re their line to the White House. Their questions will be our questions.”
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be a guest on this morning’s “Morning Joe” on MSNBC to discuss her trip to Taiwan.
  • Monday was the 17th anniversary of the start of CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.” Blitzer tweeted out an appreciation.

Death of a legend

David McCullough has died. He was 89. The cause has not been made public.

McCullough won Pulitzer Prizes for two presidential biographies: “Truman” in 1992 and “John Adams” in 2001. Aside from his pain-stakingly researched books, McCullough is known for narrating Ken Burns’ 1990 PBS series “The Civil War.”

In his excellent obituary for The New York Times, Daniel Lewis writes, “Critics saluted him as a literary master, adept at imbuing the familiar with narrative drama and bringing momentous events to life through small details and the accounts of individual witnesses.”

Lewis goes on to note, “Mr. McCullough was himself often held up as an exemplar of solid values. He received many awards from professional historical societies and some 40 honorary doctorates. In 2006, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”

And one more note. Michael Barbaro — host of The New York Times’ “The Daily” podcast — tweeted out this detail from Lewis’ obit: “Throughout his career Mr. McCullough and his wife would read his early drafts aloud to each other — a practice he credited with improving his writing enormously.”

More sad news

Olivia Newton-John in 2018. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

First album that I ever bought with my own money earned from allowances and birthday gifts? Olivia Newton-John’s “If You Love Me, Let Me Know” in 1974. I was 10.

On Monday, sad news: Newton-John died at the age of 73. She had several bouts of cancer in recent years.

Aside from being one of the top pop stars of the 1970s and 1980s, Newton-John also appeared in several movies, including “Grease” in 1978. CNN’s Brandon Griggs wrote that the movie was “arguably the most popular movie musical of all time” and that it “lifted her to a new level of stardom.”

Newton-John told CNN in 2017, “I don’t think anyone could have imagined a movie would go on almost 40 years and would still be popular and people would still be talking to me about it all the time and loving it. It’s just one of those movies. I’m very lucky to have been a part of it. It’s given so many people pleasure.”

Griggs has a good appreciation piece about Newton-John, as does the Los Angeles Times’ Christie D’Zurilla.

And I love this tweet from The New York Times’ John Branch: “How big a deal was she long before Grease and Physical? In 1974, she won CMA’s female vocalist of the year over (checks notes) Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Tanya Tucker, Anne Murray.  And she was 28 when she filmed ‘Grease’”

Newton-John also was an activist and helped raise millions of dollars in the fight against cancer.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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