Axios' Mike Allen: 'Too much journalism is too long and built for journalists'

The veteran of Politico and The New York Times talks about his latest venture and how it's helping to establish a baseline truth for people in several industries.

Axios' Mike Allen
Axios' Mike Allen

Name
Mike Allen

Title
Founder and executive editor

Outlet
Axios

Website
www.axios.com

How does Axios address media’s big problems?
We saw in media so much volume and so little quality. The big idea of Axios is we can help point to, discover, report, and illuminate the most important stories in an efficient way.

People don’t know who to trust right now. We want our readers to say about our journalists, "They’re smart, I trust them; they don’t waste my time." If you can do those three things, that’s nirvana.

What is your editorial vision for Axios?
The stream is built for a mobile experience. Every story is roughly the size of a phone screen, so you can catch up quickly. You can click on "read more" and the story will drop down, but you never have to read an entire story or go to a different page. It saves you time and it’s an elegant, efficient way to deliver a long article.

Too much journalism is too long and built for journalists. Things should be made to serve the reader. The stream lets you get smart fast.

How do you position your newsletters versus social media?
Different people consume news and content in different ways. I think of it as a buffet.

We’d love to reach anyone interested in smart news wherever they are, but we’ll never go for a mass audience. We focus on people who want to understand the worlds of business, technology, politics, and media trends.

Social media is a fantastic tool and accelerator for content. It’s part of why this is such a golden age for news.

You don’t hear that often about journalism today.
The big idea is that those four worlds are converging and colliding. This is very much reflected in PRWeek’s coverage: tech is business; media is tech; politics is media. Helping all those worlds understand each other better — connecting Silicon Valley to DC, connecting DC to New York — is great for society. And it’s awesome journalism.

What should PR pros keep in mind when they pitch you?
We’re looking for ideas that last beyond the news cycle. Our sweet spot is anything that looks forward in our four coverage areas, and helps readers do their jobs better and understand the world better.

Will you charge for content?
For the moment, everything is in front of the pay wall. We expect to add subscription offerings late this year.

How do you weave advertising into the online experience so it's effective but not intrusive?
We do sponsored content in a totally new way. There are no pop-ups, banners, or ads readers hate.

In the stream, we have screen-sized sponsored content that’s clearly labeled. We apply our editorial insights so sponsors’ messages are communicated in an efficient and elegant way consumers can remember. The sponsor has an individual conversation with each reader.

Why did you think Rebel Mouse was the right platform company to partner with?
It’s superior in its field, fantastic with social, and the technology is powerful. Even though we’re a startup, it allows us to be leaps and bounds ahead of legacy media.

Do you have any brand partnerships?
Our most visible partnership right now is NBC Universal, which is an investor, and chairman Andy Lack is on our board. We’re doing a series of events in partnership with NBC, Meet the Press’ Chuck Todd, and others.

You wrote about Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon…
People close to the president say they want Steve Bannon to play his role as the president’s beating heart attached to the populist beast that helped put him in office. But they also want a structure in the West Wing that allows for the communication, consultation, and coordination of a more traditional White House. The trick is marrying those two things.

How can the media establish a baseline reality again?
The biggest problem with fake news is people don’t believe in real news. They don’t know who to trust. But there’s a huge audience out there hungry for illumination. So much news content is divided into shirts and skins, reds and blues — it’s disturbing. People need trustworthy content more than ever. Axios does a series called ‘Facts Matter’ that helps people cut through the crap.

How do you penetrate the echo chamber and get people to listen to reality?
In this sea of media noise, people are looking for an organization that has subject matter experts devoted to big topics. We tell our journalists to focus on being smart, trustworthy, and not wasting readers’ time to get through that noise. It’s not a matter of breaking through. People will seek you out.

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