Who Is Axios Media?
You might have noticed a new website and media company popping up on your social feeds recently. It claims to be informative and unbiased, with short and concise articles and a name that comes from the Greek word for “worthy”. The website is Axios and it employs close to 100 people, with plans for further expansion following a successful first year of operations. Many people have asked where Axios came from, who started the burgeoning media company and who gave it the money to come so far in just one year.
I will try to answer these questions for you here.
Axios Media was founded by three well established and experienced employees of Politico—a well-known political news site that is often accused by conservatives of having a left-wing bias. The site's executive editor and co-founder is Mike Allen, who spent his time as Politico's White House correspondent dating as far back as 2010. While at Politico, Allen penned a popular daily feature called “Playbook”, which was estimated to generate almost $800,000 in profits for Politico. Allen has often been called one of the most powerful journalists in DC.
James VandeHei is the co-founder of Politico and the co-founder and current CEO of Axios Media. VandeHei started his career as a sports journalist, but eventually found work at both the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post as a political journalist. It was 2006 when VandeHei left the Washington Post to start Politico.
In April of 2016, VandeHei left Politico and penned an article called “Escaping The Digital Media 'Crap Trap'”, in which he described the current state of affairs in digital news media and his displeasure with click-bait. VandeHei opened his article with a direct criticism of the online media environment:
Digital media companies are caught in the "crap trap," mass-producing trashy clickbait so they can claim huge audiences and often higher valuations.
Here is how they fell into this lethal trap: They got into the content game to produce news or info they might be proud of, believing they could lure us to read it and maybe even pay for it. They quickly realized it's expensive to produce quality content and hard to get a lot of people to click on it, much less pay for it. So they deluded themselves that the better play was to go for the biggest audience possible, using stupid web tricks to draw them in. These include misleading but clicky headlines, feel-good lists, sexy photos and exploding watermelons.
One of VandeHei's inspirations for Axios was what he viewed as the trashy world of click-bait news media. VandeHei, along with Mike Allen and Politico's former revenue officer, Roy Schwartz, sought to create a new media enterprise that would focus on concise, truthful and informative mobile and social-based articles without using cheap, click-bait titles and headlines.
Only one year in, many could say Axios has done well. But it could not have done it without the help of investors with deep pockets.
Wealthy, Established Left-Wing Investors
Axios is based in Arlington, Virginia—the home of The Pentagon—but one of its first investors was Lerer Hipeau Ventures, which has mostly put its money into companies based in New York. In 2016, LHV helped VandeHei, Allen and Schwartz raise ten million in capital to start Axios Media.
LHV was founded by Kenneth Lerer, Ben Lerer and Eric Hippeau in 2010. Kenneth Lerer is one of the co-founders of the Huffington Post and is currently the chairman of Buzzfeed. Kenneth Lerer is also the creator and founder of the now discontinued website, StopTheNRA.
Eric Hippeau is a venture capitalist in New York who is also from the Huffington Post, acting as its current CEO. In 2012, Hippeau teamed with Kenneth Lerer to start the left-leaning NowThis News, a social media marketing and news company that owns the Youtube channels NowThis World and SourceFedNERD.
Ben Lerer is Kenneth Lerer's son and the CEO of Group Nine Media, as well as the founder of Thrillist.
Another prominent backer of Axios Media is David Bradley, owner of Atlantic Media, which owns the left-leaning online publication Quartz. Yet another left-leaning Democrat supporter, Alan Patricof, is a financial backer of Axios Media through his venture capital firm, Greycroft.
Among Axios Media's very few right-leaning investors are the infamous Koch Brothers. Through Koch Industries, the Koch Brothers are considered to be one of Axios Media's initial launch partners. Charles and David Koch are known as early supporters and financial backers of the Tea Party movement. Their financial contributions in politics have been mostly to Republican candidates on a presidential, gubernatorial and congressional level, with the exception of Donald Trump.
The Koch brothers have provided funding to the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Federalist Society and the Fraser Institute.
Massive Corporate Investors
Axios Media, despite trying to brand itself as an alternative to corporate media and online click-bait, has an array of large corporate backers—among them is the mainstream news giant, NBC. The company's other corporate backers are well-known and widespread across several industries.
Multinational bank and holding company, JP Morgan Chase, was one of Axios Media's initial launch partners. The corporation dedicates nearly $5M annually to lobbying in Washington DC and various state levels across America and weighs its political contributions mostly toward the Republican Party and GOP candidates. JP Morgan Chase is considered the largest bank in America by assets.
Boeing is America's second largest defence contractor and one of Axios Media's largest investors. The corporation spends an average of $15M annually on lobbying and has weighed its political contributions toward Democratic candidates, including Barack Obama.
Walmart and Pepsico are two massive corporate investors behind Axios. By profits, Walmart is the largest corporation in the world with nearly $500B in annual revenue and over two million employees. The corporation only recently began charitable contributions and has had very little political activity, besides once having Hillary Clinton on its board of directors and the corporation's founding family, the Waltons, being heavy Democrat Party donors.
Healthcare product and insurance provider, UnitedHealth Group Inc., is another Axios backer and America's sixth largest in the industry. Among Axios Media's other corporate sponsors are BP (British Petroleum), Bank Of America and the massive pharmaceutical trade group, PhRMA.
Based on the political activity and affiliations of Axios Media's founders and investors, it appears Axios leans more to the left side of the political spectrum. However, with right-leaning investors like JP Morgan Chase and Koch Industries, there may be some room for non-biased and balanced reporting on issues.
Some of Axios Media's articles have defended Donald Trump and other Republicans across all levels of government, as well as covered political and social issues more fairly than other alternative news media. The stated goal of Axios and its founders is to fix a broken media culture, as stated in their mission statement: “Media is broken—and too often a scam”.
However, Axios Media's massive corporate sponsorship is a cause for concern. Questions about how much influence these corporate investors have—and could have—on Axios Media's content are justified. Some may come to the conclusion that Axios Media is nothing more than an attempt to shift mainstream news media and its ideology onto an alternative platform, making it more palatable for those who have rejected mainstream news.