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Billionaire media dynasty snaps up news start-up Axios for $525m

·3-min read
cox axios trump merger
cox axios trump merger

A digital news publisher best known for a clash with former US president Donald Trump has been sold for $525m (£432m) to one of America’s wealthiest families.

Axios has been bought by Cox Enterprises, the holding company for the Cox dynasty’s business empire, which spans broadband networks, local newspapers and digital advertising. Forbes estimates the family fortune at $34.5bn.

Founded by a trio of journalists, Axios has built an audience with snappy political and business articles that make news and analysis readily digestible on screen with bullet points and other formats.

It gained prominence when Jonathan Swan, its national political correspondent, conducted a tense broadcast interview with Mr Trump over the coronavirus pandemic.

The encounters included Mr Swan pressuring Mr Trump to reveal the evidence he had to back up claims that “you can test too much” for the virus.

Under its deal with Cox Enterprises, Axios will receive $25m to expand its national and local subscription services. Axios Local already covers 24 cities, but has plans to expand its coverage to another six cities by the end of this year.

Jim VandeHei, the chief executive of Axios, said the deal was great “for Axios, for our shareholders and American journalism”.

“It allows us to think and operate generationally, with a like-minded partner – and build something great and durable that lives long after we are gone.”

Axios, which aims to be non-partisan, was co-founded by Mr VandeHei, Mike Allen and Roy Schwartz, who left Politico in 2016. The trio will continue to hold a substantial slice of Axios and will continue to spearhead the editorial direction of the company.

The German publisher Axel Springer last year made a double takeover bid for Politico and Axios with the aim of engineering a merger. However, talks with Axios broke down, leaving Springer able to acquire only Politico for $1bn.

Alex Taylor, a leading member of the Cox family and chairman of Cox Enterprises, said: “Our company started in the media business, and we have always had a passion for journalism.”

The business was founded in 1898 when founder James Cox bought the Dayton Daily News. Mr Cox, a Democrat, went on to become Ohio’s governor before running an ill-fated presidential bid in 1920 with Franklin Roosevelt as his vice-president running mate.

Since then, Cox has grown into a sprawling empire based in Atlanta, Georgia. As well as broadband networks it owns the American version of Autotrader. In 2019, the group invested $350m in Rivian, the Amazon-backed electric vehicle manufacturer.

Its latest acquisition confirms Axios among a rare breed of new media companies that have managed to secure strong valuations despite pressures on the digital advertising market.

BuzzFeed’s shares fell by nearly 24pc on its first week of trading on the New York Stock Exchange in December after raising around $16m (£12m) from the trust of 890 Fifth Avenue Partners, despite hopes of securing $288m.

The shortfall was caused by Spac investors redeeming the majority of their shares ahead of BuzzFeed’s merger with Fifth Avenue. BuzzFeed has been locked in a battle for profitability after its hopes of cashing in on social media growth proved unrealistic.