Co-Founder of Axios and Politico Jim VandeHei at the Berkeley Forum

Conversations March 19, 2019

Jim VandeHei appeared at the Berkeley Forum on October 19, 2017. Mr. VandeHei’s address centered around how the content revolution has emerged as a response to clickbait headlines. Mr. VandeHei spoke about his own journey in creating two major media publications, as well as how increased efficiency and quality of media produces value for its consumers. The event was moderated by Michael Chien.

Michael Chien: Mr. VandeHei, thanks so much for coming to speak to us.

Jim VandeHei: You’ve got to stop calling me Mr. VandeHei!

Michael Chien: I wanted to get back to, I guess, the beginning, when you realized that we were falling into what you call the “Crap Trap”, the fake journalism. Why did you decide to break out from the norm [and]  start Axios, instead of staying in POLITICO and maybe changing the rules of the game from within?

Jim VandeHei: Everything in life, there’s lots of reasons. One, I’m restless. I like to do new things. I would say I got addicted to starting companies or starting products when I was at POLITICO. I think I’m decent at it, so I wanted to give it another whirl. The big one, though, is I saw an opportunity. An opportunity, and with the way I look at businesses, now that we start them, is you’ve got to have, what is a need that needs to be filled? If you can fill that need, is there a plausible way to monetization of that idea? To me, the challenge now is different than when we started POLITICO. POLITICO, at the time, all it was filling to me was this need for more political coverage, more depth, with more analysis, hooked up to the web, taking advantage of cable TV. Our belief was that, that was what Washington needed, and our theory was that if Washington needed, anybody who cared about politics would ultimately get sucked into it. Mission accomplished. The new challenge, I’d say, for all of us is the one I outlined up there, which is the world is more complex today than it was a decade ago, and it’s going to get exponentially more complex, and that for people who care about serious news consumption, and I do believe that’s still a nice chunk of the country and a really nice chunk of the world, there has to be a better, more efficient way for people to have a fuller understanding of politics, technology, business, media consumption which is not Katie Couric’s contract, it’s a dissemination in consumption of information, but science, future of work, and so if you look at, if you go to Axios, those are our sections. Every one of the sections that we have are issues that are going to shape the future, all narrated by people who have expertise and following. We have what we call a radiate theory, that if we’re pretty good at getting Jamie Dimon as a reader, the president as a reader, or Sheryl Sandberg as a reader, then our theory is we can write stuff that they find essential, that ultimately that will echo out to anybody else who cares about it. The early results are very encouraging. People respond very well to it, and the neatest thing is, we do reader surveys. We sent one out maybe three months in. We sent it out, and we didn’t have that big a readership at the time. I think 12,000 people filled it out. It took 15 minutes, 6,000 volunteered to answer any question we ever have, and it was so interesting to read it, because people were responding to it using language that we would use inside of our meetings. Say, “Oh, you’re helping me get smarter faster.” Oh, you’re making the reading of complex issues more efficient, more understandable, more approachable. This is easy to read, easy to share. It’s clean. Those things are super gratifying. It’s a long way of answering that there was an opportunity that we saw to fill. I believe that we’re filling it, and now I actually think this could be exponentially bigger than we even thought when we launched it nine months ago. That’s to me one of the most astonishing things. We just launched nine months ago, and I knew we were on to something when two months in the New York Times was quoting Axios without saying what it is. I was like, “Come on.” Two months in, as a new publication, and at least for people in the media, people in politics, people in technology, that they were that familiar with it, that they assumed their readership was familiar with it. I know that a lot of people aren’t familiar with it, so it probably should’ve explained what it was, and then said Axios.com.

Michael Chien: When you talk about, one of the resounding motifs of your address was this trust in specific that the media and journalism is now operating in. Especially given that Axios is a new company, how does it operate within the rules of that game? How does it make itself trustworthy despite being so new and so fresh?

Jim VandeHei: We have a formula. One is, we hire people who are already respected in their area, so Mike Allen in politics, Dan Primack who is probably the most respected writer on venture capital. Kim Hart, who’s probably the most respected writer on the collision of technology and Washington. Sara Fischer, who covers media trends. You hire people who already command respect and command a certain following. Then, you create a culture that demands that we’re there to write information. We don’t have an opinion page. You’re not allowed to pop off on Twitter with your opinion or on any social media, whether you’re on the business side or the editorial side, because we all have a responsibility. Everybody at our company is an owner. Every person has stock and will forever in the company, so that they feel a sense of ownership, because Axios which is Greek means worthy. Worthy of your trust, worthy of your time. They have a responsibility. If you treat people like adults in a workplace, they’ll respond like adults. If you put weird restrictions on them, they’ll act like toddlers and throw their little toys.

Michael Chien: Is that a mission that appeals to, I guess, the almost half of Americans who don’t really see the media as producing trustworthy content or even see it as a viable option of their own information edification? Is that the target population, or is it people that already think journalism is worthy of their time?

Jim VandeHei: To me, I look at the map in terms of people who should be consumers of Axios content over time as anybody who’s consuming serious news on a daily basis or should be. Listen, there’s a big segment of the country that’s never going to. I can’t make people care. I just can’t, but I can make the experience for people who want to care or who do care way better. It is, some of the people who thought fake news is fake news. Yeah, sure. We definitely hear from, we’ve got a nice ideological breakdown in our readership. I think people do trust us, because we are very clinical. We’re trying to explain what’s happening and why it’s happening. That’s it. Every story, every item, if you go on the Axios screen, what is new, what is interesting, and why does it matter? Why does it matter? How should I think about this, based on somebody who spent their lifetime thinking about this topic, and being in conversations with the people who spend the rest of their life thinking about this topic? Those are the only things I know that you can do to earn trust, and then when you’re on TV, doing the interview like I am here. Not betraying an ideological bias, and having an authenticity about yourself as a publication, and I think collectively if you had any of the other people at Axios here, they would hopefully sound a lot like me. You would say they’re authentic, they care, they’re in it for the right reasons. They’re trying their best, and knowing we’re not always going to get it right. We’re going to screw stuff up. We just are, but then don’t hide and bury your correction, and do all the stupid tricks that people in media have done. Just say, “We screwed up. This is how we screwed it up. Forgive us.” Move on.

Michael Chien: I guess what I’m trying to get at is that a lot of what you deem to be the problem in journalism, people clicking on tricks-for-clicks as I think you have termed it, if those people who aren’t going to legitimate or trustworthy publications, have proliferated this problem, why is it that the solution should ignore these people, that don’t really get their news from trustworthy sources, that would never look toward Axios? Is it just to neglect them, and to let them make their own, use their own facts, or is there some sort of strategy for Axios, as a new disruptive company to really reach those users regardless of what their views are?

Jim VandeHei: Again, you’re not ignoring someone. It would be the person, the consumer would be the one ignoring it. The way you make yourself omnipresent is you want to make sure you’re on every, that you’re basically delivering your content in every ecosystem in a way that fits with the voice of that ecosystem, meaning the way you display yourself on on app has to be different than Facebook, has to be different than Snapchat, has to be different than Instagram, has to be different than Newsletter, it has to be different than a web platform. Then, different than if you’re on TV. When that’s out there, that’s out there. They can choose. I can’t make you choose. You might be really conservative, and you might only like fake news, and you might only read Breitbart, and you might only watch Sean Hannity. There’s nothing I can do to change her. I can’t say, “No! Sean’s an idiot! No!” – listen to me. She’s already, but I can put that out there, and not tip the scales, and not do anything for that person to distrust the content, and then just maybe, on that second beer as she’s watching Sean late at night, she suddenly has a revelation. She says, “You know what? I don’t trust this shit. I’m going to read that.”

Michael Chien: You put out better content, people choose.

Jim VandeHei: How else can you do it? You tell me.

Michael Chien: That’s not my field of expertise, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that…

[Laughter]

Michael Chien: Maybe there is an angle that encapsulates all of civil discourse, and all of the people who will cast ballots for public office. Is there an endgame for journalism and for Axios that encapsulates all of the masses?

Jim VandeHei: I don’t know how to answer it any other way than this. I’m brutally clinical about life. I am brutally clinical. I can look at the data, I can look at people, I can look at human nature, I can look at tendencies, I can look at trends, I can look at consumption, and I can tell you that there’s, not just today. There always was a big segment of people who never cared about news. They don’t have to care about news, it’s the beauty of our system. For all the bitching about America, it’s an amazing country, where you can thrive without ever picking up a newspaper, without ever going to Axios, you get to do your job, be a good person, have a family. You’re going to be fine.

Michael Chien: Those who will go to Axios, though, what do you see as the main value proposition? Is it the brevity, the efficiency? Is it the quality of content? If it’s one single thing, what sets it apart from the rest of the race?

Jim VandeHei: It’s definitely two things. It’s the smarts and it’s the efficiency. We call it, you’re actually trademarking it, smart brevity, in that it’s really smart. It’s really easy to consume, and it’s really efficient. If you want to read more, you don’t have to go to another page. It just drops down beautifully in your screen. You’re not going to have a pop-up ad. It is, I think, the nicest possible user architecture created for media. It’s awesome. I had nothing to do with it. This woman, Alexis Lloyd, who is at the New York Times. She’s working at the New York Times lab, and she was studying the future of news, looking at data. She came to the exact same conclusion that we did, coming in from a totally different angle. She said, “Oh, my gosh, this is exactly what people want.” By the time we met her, she could finish our sentences, and then, she could do something I couldn’t do, which is design something. Then Matt Baume, who was also at the New York Times lab building that stuff, came on because he wanted to build it, exactly the way that we were articulating it, and the way that Alexis was designing it. That’s where, if you get the opportunity to be part of a startup, there is nothing more fun in the professional side of your life. It is a blast, to have an idea, and to see an idea take off with a group of people who come at it with really different talent sets, really different backgrounds, that clash of ideas, the clash of personalities, the clash of egos, and then voila. An idea comes from that, that works, that people read or people trust, they’re just the coolest possible thing. Not everyone will be able to do it, but you should all look at yourselves as entrepreneurs, even if you’re going to go through a more conventional route through work, in that it’s not going to be my parents’ generation, where you’re somewhere for 40 years. You’re going to constantly be moving. You have to constantly think about the skill sets that you need. You have to constantly be aware. Listen, the world that you’re going to live in is going to be much harder than the world I grew up in, in that change is only going to get quicker. Everything is going to change. Robotics, artificial intelligence, automation’s going to change each and every job, each and every industry, and it’s going to happen quicker than most of us are capable of keeping up with. It’s going to require all of you to be a lot more entrepreneurial and not be that complacent in your professional life. You’re in the right part of the gene pool, right? You’re at this university. You’re really smart as hell. Shame on you, if you’re not successful coming out of here, right?

[Laughter]

Jim VandeHei: You’ve got it going on.

Michael Chien: I want to delve a little bit, I know that my time is running out, but into the product name process, talking about with that seamless user experience. I’ve been to the site. It is very beautiful, as you say. Part of that decision, I think, may have been to include, I guess, native advertising within that platform. Do you think that complicates the quality of the content in any way, in terms of presenting information to the user? What was the decision-making rationale behind that?

Jim VandeHei: One, I’m a capitalist. I believe that…I’m a big believer. For-profit companies, and they create a type of culture and a type of company that’s going to be a lot more dynamic. I love that people put money into not-for-profits. I don’t think that’s the best solution for journalism. I think for-profit companies are the best. There’s only a couple ways to make money in journalism. You can sell subscriptions, you can sell ads, you can do events. They’re basically the three ways of making money in journalism. For me, as long as you’re marking something as sponsored content or as an ad, I’m all for it. I’m very pro-it. What we did is, we said, “Okay, let’s sit down.” If you’re going to design an ad that provides the least amount of intrusion and distraction for the reader but forces the reader to interact with it in a way that the advertiser gets value. Too many media companies, “Oh, advertisers.” It’s your money. If you don’t have advertising, you don’t have money. You don’t have money, you don’t have a job. You don’t have, then there’s no company. You want to make that experience beautiful for the reader, beautiful for the advertiser. All we did is, we looked at, what is the best experience out there for the advertiser, for the reader? It’s with Facebook, setting up the nice stream, where you go through because it’s there. You can choose whether or not to stop. You’re working with a small space, so if you’re clever about your graphics, your video, your headlines, you can actually get awesome interaction with it. Our ads have a 2-4x engagement improvement from any other ad for that very reason, because we put a lot of time, thinking, into the making those as beautiful as the content themselves. As long as they’re labeled, that’s all you can do. That’s all you should do, and you need them. If you take them away, you’ve got nothing, because one of the dumbest things the media industry did, maybe one of the dumbest things any industry has done in the history of all industries, was that our industry, when the Internet came along, we said, “Hey, you know what? Let’s all band together. Let’s take a product that’s extremely expensive to produce, really valuable,” something the consumer really likes a lot, “You know what we should do? Let’s give it away for free.” Wouldn’t that be an awesome idea? That’s what we did for ten years. We habituated an entire generation of consumers to take something for free that costs a lot of money. You don’t get your music for free. You don’t get your movies for free. You don’t get your food for free. We were giving away a product for free. That needs to be corrected, and one way is through subscriptions. You’ve been habituated to not pay for content. Other than the New York Times, the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, FT. I would say the Wall Street Journal and the FT are business expenses, so I put that on a different category. The New York Times and only recently the Washington Post, there’s very few examples of content companies that people are willing to pay enough money for to support a viable media company. That is what it is. I’m talking about the written news space. Maybe that changes with time. I don’t know. We’ll see if it does. That’s an open question. That’s a long way of saying, I love our ads.

[Laughter]

Michael Chien: Unfortunately for me, but good for the rest of you, this is my last question. Among all the things we’ve talked about, from the Internet, to advertising, to quality content, fake news, a lot of people would say that money is the biggest factor when it comes to journalism management. You’ve said in the past that, at POLITICO, you guys reached what you called a nirvana, where 50% of your revenue came from ads, the other 50% was subscriptions. Why is it not 100 to 0? Is that because it’s not feasible, or is it because the ads genuinely provide, I guess, value for the stakeholders and for the readers, in consuming that content?

Jim VandeHei: The reason is that, number one, at POLITICO, the subscription side is not like the New York Times. At POLITICO we created what we call POLITICO Pro, which is a high-end subscription service for people who are doing politics and policy professionally. The starting price is $8,000. It’s not like you’re buying that or we’re buying that. You would have to be doing it as a business. It turned out to be an awesome business, but if that’s all we did, all we would’ve been doing is writing content for a very small sliver of people that saw great value in it, but you’re not really doing the public service dimension of it. If I just wanted to build a business just to make money, that’s what I would do. It’s the easiest way to make money in journalism right now, high-end information, charge a lot of money, boom. I don’t like that. I like it as a business, but I don’t like it alone. I like it if it helps support public journalism. POLITICO, a couple weeks ago, it was one of the finest moments since I left POLITICO, to watch, we had created healthcare verticals, our first one cost you about ten grand for a company or association to get it. Our theory was, if we could get six or eight people covering healthcare, and you’re doing it with people who’ve been doing it at the most granular level, a couple times a year, they’re going to come across awesome journalism of political consequence, or there’s going to be a difficult, complex debate, but you’re going to have all this brainpower behind it, and you take that content, and you put it public. The group of people that exposed the HHS secretary and forced him out, because he was doing illegal travel, was from that POLITICO Pro team. The theory of the case worked, but you need, I think you need, both. The public dimension of journalism is why I’m a journalist. The fact that you can make a difference, you can inform tons of people, that you can help shape how people are seeing really important ideas. That part of it, at least based on the economics and the habits today, has to be supported by advertising. There’s not another way around it. I run into people that, especially out here a lot, who don’t like advertising. I’m begging you, like advertising.

[Laughter]

Jim VandeHei: You’ve got to, otherwise there’s no way to support the type of content that you’re reading. It’s not bad. Actually, I think the advertising is starting to get better, and so if you don’t have that, you’re not going to have the content that you’re getting for free. That’s just the laws of economics.

Audience Member: Given that the mission of Axios is to provide information very succinctly. First, you’ve advocated for an anti-establishment innovation party. Do we have a Zuckerberg or a Sandberg running in 2020? How do you see their path to the Presidency? Then, also, given that there’s a lot of anti-establishment values against our generation, what would you say to those young people like the millennials and slightly older who look at Axios and see some of the business partners, such as banks, pharma, industries that are skeptical, that Axios is the best forum to really give trustworthy anti-establishment information?

Jim VandeHei: All I can say is, the beauty of the content is there. You can read it. You’re either going to trust it or not. You might not like the Koch brothers. You might not like a bank. You might not like the Wildlife Federation, whoever it is that’s advertising on any given day. If that scares you off, I can’t change it. The advertisers advertise, and I am not discriminating against advertisers, as long as you’re not saying something that’s mean-spirited, like totally wrong, or violent, or whatever. We have our parameters on that. What I would say, look at the content. Look at the quality of the content. Is this something that you find edifying? Is it something that you trust? Is it something that’s making you smarter faster? If it’s not, don’t read it. If it is, read a lot more of it, and then tell your friends about it, Axios.com.

[Laughter]

Jim VandeHei: I wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal during my period between leaving POLITICO, my cooling-off period before I started Axios. The point of the piece was that the system needs a shock. In some ways, you need something different than we have, and throughout different ideas, like Zuckerberg, whoever, but somebody who’s thinking about it differently, in that, and I actually believe this even more powerfully today than I did then. The system, put aside Trump. The system in some ways is so detached from the reality that we’re about to have. We have two political parties that spend their time arguing about things that made a lot of sense 15 years ago, made some sense 10 years ago, still make a little bit of sense, but they’re not actually the topics that are going to define whether or not China eats our lunch in the next 20 years. We’ve got, we want. You’ve got to be able to modernize government. Cybersecurity, I guarantee the catastrophe we have will flow from some cyber attack that none of us are thinking about right now. If you don’t have the right technologists and the right technology, redoing government, we’re hugely vulnerable. Then you take that overseas. We grew up in a time of conventional wars. We’re going to take boots on the ground. We’re going to go to war with another country. That’s never going to happen again. All of these things are going to be fought in space, and they’re going to be fought with drones. Any given day, this very day, this would have been true under Obama too, we’re executing people via drone in four different countries. Have been for the last six-seven years. Will be probably forever. Our enemies aren’t necessarily just going to be nation states. They’re going to be things like Al Qaeda metastasizing into ISIS, which will metastasize into something else which requires a government that basically fought wars the same way for a long time to rethink about the War Powers Act. How do you move fast enough to be able to adapt to these different threats? Then, you look domestically. What is the fundamental challenge? You can bemoan globalization all you want, and there’s pros and cons to it, but the technology is only going to bring people and countries closer together, markets closer together. That is the arc of history. I don’t believe you can bend it any other way. Then, you have to look at the country. You say, “What is it that we need to do to make sure that, this is the best damn country ten years from now?” One, you’d better make sure that this is the place that people want to come and start businesses. It still is. People love this country. They might be down on it because of Trump or different dynamics that we have, but people love America. They still think it’s the best place to start companies, the best place to birth new ideas. If you don’t get that right over time, if you don’t get, are we getting people who come here? Are we getting immigrants who want to come here, start companies? They come here, start companies, and stay here. Are you then creating a tax code that makes sense in a globalized system, where you have mass amounts of competitors that might have a competitive disadvantage or competitive advantage overseas? You need to be able to rewire the country on the domestic side and on the foreign side to make sure that we continue to crush it. We are, for all the hangdog crap I hear about, “Oh, my God! America’s going to Hell!” It’s not going to Hell. I’ve spent, we’ve built a company in Europe before we left POLITICO. I’d much, much, much rather be an American than be sitting in Europe. They’re in a lot of trouble. Their governing system doesn’t work. Their borders are really poor. They’re dealing with terrorists threats and the effects of that, and migration in ways that are much more powerful than some of the debates that we’re having here. “Oh, China, China, China!” Come on. Yes, they could steal our ideas, which they do. They can bully companies into doing things in their country. They can do that. They have lots of people, but it’s a crappy governing system that doesn’t have as dynamic of a culture, and is not, I don’t believe, going to be a long-term threat, as big a long-term threat as people fear, if we get those things right. Otherwise, if we don’t, it will, or India will, or Vietnam will, or whoever else will. That’s a long way of answering the journal piece about just saying, I do think that there probably needs to be a new set of ideas that people are talking about, and it actually might happen soon, because if somebody’s, look at what’s happening with the two parties. In some ways, we probably should have four political parties right now, because the difference between the Trump wing of the party and the Ryan wing of the party, they’re almost two different parties. They have really pulled themselves apart. The difference between the Clinton wing and the Sanders wing is pretty profound. I think really profound, and that Sanders wing is only getting pulled further to the left. In some ways, if you have four different parties right now on a lot of these topics, you might have the Sanders wing and the Trump wing often teaming up, especially when it comes to issues like trade, US jobs, and so I don’t know how this plays out. All I know is that every single job, every single sector, is getting disrupted and will continue to get disrupted. I don’t think politics is any different. Is technology or technologists, the Zuckerbergs of the world, the solution? I don’t know. I think that those companies have a bigger political priority. I don’t think Mark Zuckerberg hired David Plouffe and other people because he’s thinking he’s going to run for president. I think he’s smartly realized he has a hell of a political problem on his hands, that the more people learn about what’s happening on Facebook, the more they’re going to see their popularity fade, the more that they’re going to see regulators regulate. It is the single biggest story in this country this year, if you didn’t have Trump as president. It is basically, now, have this country starting to look at these big social platforms that we give all of our data, all of our time, all of our mindshare, and people are starting to think, “Whoa, wait a second. Did we give them too much?” Were they too unregulated? Is there too much mischief happening that we weren’t aware of, and should there be a correction? I think there’ll be a correction, and I think Europe in some ways is a template there, because Europe has a much different view of data privacy, data protection, and these big companies than we do. They regulate them more. They tax them more. They fine them more, and that creates a template for what could happen, here. I’m not guaranteeing it does happen here. We had, last week, we had Sheryl Sandberg. We’re the one company that interviewed her for a half hour. Mike Allen, on stage, grilled her pretty powerfully. They know they’re in for a grilling on Capitol Hill about what was happening on that platform, what responsibility they have to be aware of it sooner than they actually were, and what do they have to do now to make sure that, that doesn’t happen again? That’s an amazing story. I think the best book that’s going to be written is going to be the Mueller Report. Think about it. Everyone’s like, “Oh, is he going to indict Trump?” I don’t know. I have my own theories on that, but what he is going to do is, he’s not just looking at Trump. He’s looking at the entire system. He is going to pull together a report that looks at a foreign company, manipulating for the price of doughnuts, our election, on an unregulated platform, that may or may not have been in cahoots with either a campaign, or elements around a campaign, to undoubtedly influence at least in some ways the election. We’ll never know if it was decisive, but we’ll know that it was profound and potentially decisive, but we’ll never know decisive, that then has spawned all kinds of crazy activity, including the firing of Comey, which probably will go down in history as one of the dumbest things that a president’s ever done, because it then gave him Robert Mueller, who will write the report that I’m talking about.

[Laughter]

Jim VandeHei: It’s a fad. It’s scary times. There’s no doubt. I probably feel the same fears that you guys do. It’s also a fascinating time, because all of this stuff is coming together, and that’s what I was talking, that’s where we never would’ve predicted it when we launched Axios, but our theory was all this stuff will collide. We didn’t really know it would collide in this spectacular of a fireworks show, but it has.

[Laughter]

Audience Member: I just had a question regarding your thoughts on for-profit news media. I’m actually from Canada, and in Canada our primary news source is Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. We use this and BBC, and at least from my personal experience is that people often trust the state-owned media sources, primarily because they have less of an incentive to, as you mentioned earlier, resort to the lowest common denominator, be more serious about their news, because they have a relatively stable source of funding. I just wanted to gauge your impact on the state-owned media resources and whether such a platform, whether something similar could work in the United States.

Jim VandeHei: We have PBS and NPR, which obviously get some amount of public funding. I don’t think that’s the answer. I don’t think, even if it were the answer, it’s never going to be the only thing, unless you had total state control, which then stomps out cataclysms. I would be opposed to that. Looking at it clinically, it’s an interesting question, just not going to happen, so I don’t spend a whole lot of time entertaining the possibility. I do agree with you, I don’t know, I’m familiar with the Canadian but again, I’m not going to lie to you. I don’t watch it.

[Laughter]

Jim VandeHei: The BBC I am pretty familiar with, and man, it’s a great place. There’s lots of great places for information. It can come even when I’m dogging on not-for-profits. I’m dogging on the culture that a not-for-profit can create, not the output. I love that we have lots of not-for-profits that are doing investigative reporting, which is the hardest type of reporting to actually create a business model around, but to me, you’re going to always end up with a mix of all those things, and so if it works in Canada, it’s great that it works in Canada. I will say, if you go to Britain, the SUF, the BBC, but I don’t know if that’s often the dominant voice. London is now a hotbed, for almost every single media company’s now creating a London outpost, and you have Buzzfeed, and Business Insider, and you have the tabloids there. London, other than New York, is probably one of the hottest places for that, with a really vibrant media market that gets you from a bunch of different angles. I think, again, I’m a big fan of more. I’m also a big fan of you understanding what it is you’re reading, and whether or not you can trust it or should trust it, and if something is fake or something is nonsense, that there’s a way for you to be able to easily pick up that, that’s fake or that’s nonsense. We’re not there yet.

Audience Member: This is a product question. It involves your decision to start Axios, and I know obviously it’s not something like making podcasts, that’s a shift in media consumption that’s [changing] just the way that we’re consuming media. As progressives, do you think [there will continue to be a] go-to for liberal media? What do you see, the trends? How do you see media [changing over the next few years]?

Jim VandeHei: It’s hard for me to tell what it looks like beyond the next couple of years. I think over the next couple of years, I think media consumption is going to become more and more awesome, in that as you get from 4G to 5G to 6G, as you get networks are quick enough, I think what you’re going to have is… Newsletters are interesting. Newsletters, in terms of really especially hyper-engaged readers, they’re awesome. Our newsletters do extraordinarily well, and people love it. Why? Because it’s efficient, it’s pushed to you, it’s shorter and smarter. It often has more voice. I think what we’ll see, and I think you’ll hopefully see it from us, is to me ideally newsletters, podcasts, all of that stuff blends itself into an app stream, meaning that you have a watch/listen/read experience that’s tailored to what you might want or the way you want to consume information utilizing all these technologies which are a lot cheaper to do today than they would’ve been three or four years ago. That will be a great, great, great consumption experience and is a great production experience. The opportunity [is splendid]. How many people here are in journalism or are going to go into the media? I don’t know who you have in here. I think sometimes people come in, and they’re like, “Oh, my God! Media sucks! It’s dying.” It’s not. It’s way better to be you than it is to be me, in terms of, because you’re coming of age, and you’re coming into it with this skill set that totally matches the moment. The moment needs, there’s going to be the boom over the next couple years and the need for video content’s going to be insane. Look at the money that not just ESPN, we have this… If you’re in media, you’ve got to go to axios.com, and subscribe to our media trends newsletter. She is the smartest person I’ve ever met thinking about media. She had this thing the other day about how Netflix now is almost tied with ESPN in terms of paying for content. Imagine if you had Snapchat, not paying for it, but now Snapchat will pay for it, but better rev shares now. Facebook’s starting to pay for a lot more content. All of these new distribution channels that are going to replace cable, and nobody knows what will replace it, but everyone knows something will replace it. The demand for video content, demand for audio content, the demand for I would still say text-based content, it’s only getting better. You’re growing up with that skill set, and you’re growing up with those consumption habits, so you’re actually much better positioned to help solve the future than somebody who’s my age or older, and grew up in a static, “I just read a newspaper this way,” experience. You should not go into the profession being bummed. You should go into it being very, very, very optimistic. People are, like I said, if they’re consuming 12 hours of media content of some form each and every day, just get in the fight for their mindshare. That’s what it is, now. It’s now a battle of mindshare, that’s why you have all of these companies trying to diversify. Facebook, at point you hit all the people you’re going to hit, and you then win all of that battle to get more and more mindshare over the course of the day. That’s going to benefit the content producers, the content distributors, the content editors, and so it’s a great time to go and be a part of that. The podcasts will be part of it. Podcasts, often we chase mirages in our industry. We’re like, “Oh, traffic.” Then you wake up, “Actually, it’s not that great.” Then, it was video five years ago. Great, you produce a lot of video. It turns out you still couldn’t monetize it. Podcasts were hot. I always said, “Show me.” Yes, that’s great. You’ve got X-number of viewers or X-number of listeners. How much money you making off that? How much money did it cost you to produce it? If the cost of production is greater than the money you’re making off it, it’s not actually a profitable business. It might be a good investment long term. It’s essentially not a good business. Podcasts are still, for the most part, still there. They get a good audience, but there’s not a ton of money attached to it. Doesn’t mean that there won’t be. I think it’ll come from all of that stuff starting to live together and some of the stuff sorting itself out in terms of, we have so many content producers now, and so many distribution networks. Eventually, stuff will narrow itself down. Podcasts will definitely [still be around].