The Politico deal has apparently quashed Springer’s talks to acquire Axios, a competing news start-up founded by Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen and Roy Schwartz, all veterans of Politico. (Mr. VandeHei and John F. Harris started Politico in 2006 after they left The Washington Post.) Axios’ leadership has not aggressively pursued the deal, according to one of the people.
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But Mr. Döpfner has said that the acquisition of Politico would not prevent him from continuing his pursuit of Axios, according to two people with knowledge of his thinking. How he would resolve the conflicts that go with owning two closely competing publications is unclear.
When asked in a town-hall-style meeting on Thursday with Politico staffers why he had chosen Politico over Axios, he described Axios as “an impressively successful product” before saying that, when there was the chance to acquire Politico, “Why would you consider any other alternative?”
Mr. Döpfner still needs to find a top executive to manage the new property. In February, Politico’s chief executive, Patrick Steel, announced that he would depart. Buying a property like Axios could help Mr. Döpfner solve the pending management search by installing its leaders to run both operations, the two people said.
Mr. Döpfner could not be reached for comment. Axel Springer offered a statement: “We acquired Politico because we believe in its potential. At the same time as a global media company we are always looking at strong digital publications to partner with.” Later, Springer updated its statement to read: “Axel Springer will not acquire Axios.”
Mr. Allbritton has lost some of his big-name journalists in recent years, either to rivals or to upstarts. Three of Politico’s top staff members — Jake Sherman, Anna Palmer and John Bresnahan — left this year to start Punchbowl News, a competing news site. Mr. Sherman and Ms. Palmer were the hands behind the Playbook newsletter. In June, Carrie Budoff Brown, a longtime editor at Politico, said she would be leaving to join NBC News.
Politico’s nearly 400 journalists are also in the throes of a unionizing effort that could add to the cost of the business. It’s unclear how Springer will manage the mounting labor issues.
For Mr. Allbritton, the deal means a huge personal payday. His family already netted about $500 million after Mr. Allbritton sold its television empire to Sinclair Broadcast Group in 2013.
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