“We invested in Axios because we are 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 bought a minority stake in Axios last year and the relationship has evolved. Taylor said the pairing of Cox and Axios is a perfect fit for a family business founded in journalism more than a century ago.
Cox is one of the largest family-owned companies in the country with annual revenues of more than $20 billion. Cox was founded in 1898 by Ohio Governor James M. Cox and his purchase of the Dayton Daily News. Cox has owned and operated newspapers, including the AJC, and radio and television stations for decades.
In recent years, Cox has sold majority stakes in its television and radio stations, although it retains minority shares. The Axios deal pushes Cox back into the national media landscape at a time when the company has sought to overhaul and diversify its businesses.
Taylor said AJC, Dayton Daily News and Cox’s other Ohio newspapers will not be affected by the transaction and will each continue to operate independently. Taylor said there could be opportunities for the media companies to collaborate, but there are no plans to integrate the businesses.
Cox also operates broadband giant Cox Communications, auto businesses including AutoTrader, and has carved out new sectors like agriculture and clean technology. Cox is also one of the biggest investors in the Rivian electric vehicle startup.
When Cox made its first investment in Axios last year, the commitment reportedly pegged a company value at $430 million.
Taylor credited Axios founders Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen and Roy Schwartz for recruiting the best journalists and creating a storytelling style that is nonpartisan and sticks to the facts.
Taylor said that “the Fourth Estate is more important now than ever” in this era of political polarization.
The co-founders will retain holdings 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 to create a great, reliable and consistent media company that can outperform us all,” VandeHei, CEO of Axios, said in a press release. “Our shared ambitions must be clear: to spread clinical, impartial and trustworthy journalism to as many cities and as many issues as quickly as possible.”
The global media landscape has undergone a seismic shift in recent decades. Newspapers have been hit by declining print subscriptions and ad revenues that have shifted to tech giants like Google and Facebook. Newsrooms have gone digital while still burdened with legacy operations and costs. Broadcast and cable news have also been challenged by cable outages and shifts in ad spending and consumer preferences.
The disruption has opened the door to new entrants such as Axios and sports-focused publications like The Athletic. European media giant Axel Springer recently acquired Politico and reportedly explored an investment in Axios.
Earlier this year, The New York Times Co. acquired The Athletic, and now Axios joins Cox.
Taylor, who is joining the Axios board, said Axios is profitable with much of its revenue generated from digital advertising and subscribers to its Pro offerings.
As part of the deal, Axios’ communications software company, known as Axios HQ, will become a separate company that will be majority-owned by its founders, with Cox its sole minority investor. VandeHei will be the president of Axios HQ and Schwartz its CEO.
Taylor said it’s possible the relationship with Axios headquarters could also be expanded.
“We are excited to enter this new chapter with Cox and the opportunities we can explore with Axios HQ as a separate business,” Schwartz said in the statement. “For both companies, our mission is to help as many people and companies as possible to be smarter and faster in what really matters in this world.”