The foundations of Axios, an online media company, are centered on the basic tenets of print journalism while adapting to the new digital era, according to Axios Editor-in-Chief Nick Johnston (COL ’99).
The way in which readers absorb information has shifted with the advent of technology and digital journalism, according to Johnston. He and the three founders of Axios, Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen and Roy Schwartz, who formerly worked for Politico, noticed traditional print formats no longer fit consumers’ demands. In January 2017, Johnston and the three founders launched Axios.
The purpose of creating Axios was to develop a form of online news that eased the burden on the reader, Johnston said in an interview with The Hoya.
“The experience of consuming news on the web was kind of miserable — a lot of websites have a lot of pop-up ads; they make you click through 10 times to find something, and the stories are long and don’t get to the point,” Johnston said. “A lot of what we solved for on our site and our newsletters was, ‘OK, we’ll get rid of all of those annoying things and cut down the information to what the person really needs.’”
Since its launch in January 2017, Axios has grown from 7,000 subscribers for the Future newsletter to almost 60,000, according to Steve LeVine, future editor and adjunct professor for the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown. The online newsletter reached 360,000 subscribers in September 2018, according to the International News Media Association. Johnston attributes the growth of Axios to the “culture of responsiveness” built within the company.
“Tens of thousands of people have taken the time to fill out the survey when we ask them, and that’s a really engaged readership,” Johnston said. “I love that they are really engaged, and I think it’s very incumbent upon us even as we grow to keep those channels of communication open and listen to it.”
Not only do readers regularly engage with the website’s content, but they also play a role in determining article content, according to Johnston.
“It’s a really interesting trip wire for how we’re covering things,” Johnston said. “I’ve assigned stories on the basis of reader feedback — ‘There’s a complicated issue here, and we’re not capturing all of it, and so maybe we need to have someone dig a little deeper into it.’”
Before joining Axios, Johnston served as a managing editor at Bloomberg and covered the White House and Capitol Hill during his time as a reporter. While at Georgetown, Johnston wrote a weekly column for The Hoya on local and national politics.
A former Washington correspondent for Quartz, a mobile media startup launched in 2012, LeVine also served as a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal for 18 years.
LeVine’s experience at a print publication inspired him to develop an innovative platform that preserves journalistic integrity, he said.
“The main thing from print days pulled into Axios is the standards, the expectation that you’re telling something new. You’re not regurgitating what other people wrote; you’re not just stirring the soup and telling the story better,” LeVine said. “You are truly advancing the conversation.”
Working at a print publication provided the standards for accuracy for online journalism, Johnston said.
“Some of what I’ve learned going back all the way to The Hoya when I had editors yelling at me was rigorous journalism,” Johnston said. “It’s being precise and being factually accurate and writing clearly and concisely, not just throwing up words on the Internet and saying that’s good enough. There’s a real traditional newsroom culture of getting it right and, if you get it wrong, owning up to that, and that’s a great way to build reader trust.”
A recent partnership between Axios and HBO has led to a four-part documentary series on current political events, such as the experiences of female candidates running in elections.
Partnering with HBO gave Johnston an understanding of the value of different media in effective news storytelling, he said.
“Sometimes the best way to tell a story is just in text, text and words,” Johnston said. “But often the best way to tell a story is visually, and that can be either through illustration or a chart or a data visualization, but also through video, and the work with HBO has helped us learn a lot about adding that tool to our arsenal.”
LeVine’s teaching experience at Georgetown has highlighted the importance of being consistently accurate and prepared in both journalism and in the classroom, he said.
“Students will call you out. Students have their laptops open; they are searching the internet while you are talking,” LeVine said. “You have to be on top of your game, and because of that, I’m on top of my game in journalism.”
This article has been updated to correct the launch date of Axios.