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Cox agrees to buy news site Axios; AJC and Atlanta newsletter to remain independent

From left, Axios co-founders Mike Allen, Jim VandeHei and Roy Schwartz. (Photo from Axios.)

By John Ruch

The booming national news website Axios has agreed to be bought for $525 million by Cox Enterprises, owner of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the companies announced Aug. 8.

Axios launched an Atlanta newsletter in September 2021. Cox spokesperson Natalie Giurato tells SaportaReport that “both Axios and the AJC will continue to operate independently” and that “there will be no impact” on the current staff at Axios Atlanta. However, she did not specifically respond when asked whether the AJC and Axios might share content in some fashion. Axios did not immediately respond to a comment request.

The sale — which has yet to close and requires regulatory approval – appeared to be a surprise to Axios staff. The outlet’s own story quoted its bosses, but also cited anonymous sources and a New York Times article that broke the news. Thomas Wheatley, one of the Axios Atlanta editors, declined to comment on the record but retweeted the Axios story with a wide-eyed emoji suggesting a surprised or interested bystander.

“With so much happening in the world, Axios plays a critical role in delivering balanced, trusted news that people need,” said Cox Chairman and CEO Alex Taylor in a corporate press release. “Our company started in the media business, and we have always had a passion for journalism. Bringing a forward-thinking organization like Axios into Cox Enterprises is exciting for us on many levels, and we look forward to helping them continue to scale and grow.”

“We have found our kindred spirit for creating a great, trusted, consequential media company that can outlast us all,” said Axios CEO and co-founder Jim VandeHei in the press release. “Our shared ambitions should be clear: to spread clinical, nonpartisan, trusted journalism to as many cities and as many topics as fast as possible.”

A telecommunications and publishing behemoth, Cox is based in Sandy Springs, as is the AJC, a newspaper bought by the founding Cox family more than 70 years ago, originally as two separate publications before a 2001 merger. Cox has made major changes in its media portfolio in recent years. In 2018, it considered merging the AJC and WSB TV and radio operations. But in 2019, it made a big change in course by selling WSB and several other national broadcasting outlets, while keeping the AJC and several Ohio newspapers.

Axios launched in 2017 and is based in Virginia in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Its founders previously created another well-known news site, Politico, which sold to a German publishing company for over $1 billion last year.

Axios uses a formulaic approach to news stories, using a bullet-point, outline-like format. The format is especially suited to its business of newsletters targeting specific cities and niche markets, including Atlanta. The company has been expanding its local newsletters rapidly in U.S. cities. According to Axios’s story, the deal includes an immediate $25 million to continue that expansion. The company also partners with HBO on a documentary series.

Axios last year launched a software product called Axios HQ focused on newsletters for corporate communications. According to a Cox press release, that division will spin off as a separate and independent company led by Schwartz. Cox will become a “sole minority investor,” according to the press release.

As for Axios itself, Schwartz, VandeHei and another co-founder, Mike Allen, “will continue to hold substantial stakes in the company and will lead editorial and day-to-day business decisions,” according to the press release. According to the Axios story, Cox will hold a controlling four board seats at Axios, with one held by Cox Chairman and CEO Alex Taylor.

The Axios story claims its company has always been profitable.

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