ISOJ audience hears Axios’ Jim VandeHei emphasize the need for news outlets’ departments to work together

Axios co-founder and CEO Jim VandeHei kicked off the first day of the 18th International Symposium on Online Journalism (ISOJ) with a call for news outlets to embrace “synchronicity,” all departments — business, editorial, advertising and technology — working together for the common cause.

The Axios leader told interviewer Jennifer Preston, vice-president for journalism at the Knight Foundation, that the strong response Axios has received from readers and advertisers since it was launched in January is due in large part to all their departments working together.

“Absent that synchronicity it wouldn’t work,” VandeHei told a crowd of journalists, professionals and academics from more than 40 countries gathered April 21 at the University of Texas at Austin for ISOJ.

Regarding interest in Axios, the CEO noted they recently held a reader survey and received 10,000 responses, including 4,000 people who volunteered to complete surveys on a regular basis.

VandeHei, who stoutly asserted now may be the most exciting time for journalism, especially for technologically savvy young journalists, also offered a glimpse into the Axios experience.

Related to synchronicity, VandeHei said he is just as focused on editorial decisions as he is on advertising.

“I care about the advertiser. I’m trying to build a business.”

One key common factor between advertising and editorial, he insisted, is the audience.

“Know with precision who your audience is,” he said. Data is, of course, important but as a veteran journalist, VandeHei insists decision-makers need to also respect their instincts and the audience.

“You gotta go with your gut,” he said, adding that taking six months to make a decision is silly in a time when technology changes so rapidly. Make decisions and look for results, he suggested.

“Screw up and self-correct but don’t screw up too much,” advised VandeHei, generating laughs in the Blanton Museum of Art Auditorium.

Regarding Axios’ business model, Preston asked VandeHei if it is true they are considering introducing a subscription.

He replied that the free content will remain free and if a subscription is introduced it might not be for another five years, the same approach that he and Axios co-founders Mike Allen and Roy Schwartz employed at Politico, which they also built from the ground up.

But like many news outlets, Axios pursues multiple revenue streams, including newsletters, native advertising and hosting events. VandeHei then made an interesting comparison from an investing perspective: “Subscription is the annuity; ads are like stocks” because their value falls and rises, making budgeting difficult for a media outlet that relies primarily on advertising for revenue.

Livestreaming of ISOJ will be available on YouTube and Facebook on April 21 and April 22.