Cox Enterprises acquires media startup Axios

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

Credit: Axios

Credit: Axios

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

Cox Enterprises on Monday said it acquired news startup Axios Media, a landmark deal in national media that expands the Atlanta-based communications, automotive and services company’s journalistic reach.

Axios is best-known for its national political coverage and “Smart Brevity” style of quick-hit articles. But the Virginia-based company also produces long-form journalism, industry-focused newsletters, podcasts, an HBO series and operates local newsrooms in more than 20 U.S. cities, including Atlanta. Axios employs about 500 people and most work in their news operation.

Axios, which launched in 2017, has emerged as a player in Washington political coverage. And Axios’ founders, former top leaders at Politico, have broadened the company’s offerings beyond politics, launching local news operations and industry verticals under its Axios Pro brand such as financial technology, health and climate coverage.

Terms of the deal were not released by Cox. But Axios and The New York Times reported and a document reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution valued the deal at $525 million.

In a news release, Axios said the company will be able to expand into more cities, produce more national coverage and offer more premium coverage niches for professional audiences.

“We invested in Axios because we’re just passionate about journalism and covering the news,” Cox Enterprises Chairman and CEO Alex Taylor said in an interview. “… Axios is an exciting company. I think they operate the best national platform in the country, and they have the fastest-growing local platform.”

Cox purchased a minority stake in Axios last year and the relationship evolved. Taylor said the pairing of Cox and Axios is a natural fit for a family company founded in journalism more than a century ago.

Cox is one of the nation’s largest family-controlled companies with annual revenue of more than $20 billion. Cox was founded in 1898 by Ohio Gov. James M. Cox and his purchase of the Dayton Daily News. Cox has owned and operated newspapers, including the AJC, and television and radio stations for decades.

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.

Taylor said the AJC, Dayton Daily News and Cox’s other Ohio newspapers will not be affected by transaction and each will continue to operate independently. Taylor said there might be opportunities for the media companies to collaborate, but there are no plans to integrate the businesses.

Cox Enterprises Chairman and CEO Alex Taylor said Axios is a natural fit for a family company founded in journalism more than a century ago.

Credit: AJC file photo

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Credit: AJC file photo

Cox also operates broadband giant Cox Communications, automotive businesses including AutoTrader and has forged into new sectors like agriculture and clean technology. Cox also is one of the larger investors in electric vehicle startup Rivian.

When Cox made its first investment in Axios last year, the commitment reportedly set a value of the company at $430 million.

Taylor credited Axios founders Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen and Roy Schwartz for recruiting top journalists and creating a storytelling style that is non-partisan and sticks to the facts.

Taylor said “the Fourth Estate is more important now than ever” in this era of political polarization.

The co-founders will retain stakes in the company described as “substantial” and will continue to lead Axios’ editorial and day-to-day business decisions.

“We have found our kindred spirit for creating a great, trusted, consequential media company that can outlast us all,” VandeHei, Axios’ CEO, said in a news 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.”

The global media landscape has undergone a seismic shift in the past few decades. Newspapers have been strained by declining print subscribership and advertising revenue that has shifted to tech giants such as Google and Facebook. Newsrooms have pivoted to digital while still weighted with legacy operations and costs. Broadcast and cable news have also been challenged by cord-cutting and shifting advertising spending and consumer preferences.

The disruption has opened the door to new entrants, such as Axios and sports-centered publications like The Athletic. European media giant Axel Springer recently acquired Politico and reportedly explored an investment in Axios.

Earlier this year, The Athletic was acquired by The New York Times Co. and now Axios is joining Cox.

Taylor, who will join Axios’ board, said Axios is profitable with much of its revenue generated by digital advertising and subscribers to its Pro offerings.

As part of the deal, Axios’ communication software company, known as Axios HQ, will become a separate company that will be majority owned by its founders, and Cox will be its sole minority investor. VandeHei will be the chairman of Axios HQ and Schwartz its CEO.

Taylor said it is possible the Axios HQ relationship will also expand.

“We are excited about entering into this new chapter with Cox and the opportunities we can explore with Axios HQ as a separate business,” Schwartz said in the release. “For both companies, our mission is to help as many people and companies get smarter, faster on what truly matters in this world.”