Mike Allen of Axios: People want sophisticated explanations, not long ones

Mike Allen, the co-founder and executive editor of business, tech and politics news site Axios.com, is spending a lot of time these days thinking about information today, and how best to deliver it.

As the former chief political reporter of Politico, and now at Axios, he’s among a set of journalists who have helped to elevate the process of writing a newsletter to an art and a habit, and an early morning one at that. (He wakes up to write these at a crazy early hour, 3am with NO ALARM CLOCK, and he says doesn’t skip writing these even while on vacation, unless he has connectivity issues.)

While at Politico, he wrote the popular Playbook, which earned him the moniker, “The Man The White House Wakes Up To.” Now, at Axios, he’s hoping to spin that concept out further.

Allen himself writes the Axios AM, a bullet-pointed list of need-to-know items for the day, which sits among a longer list of newsletters covering other topics. These form the backbone of Axios’ content strategy, which might best be summed up as: short, informative and (ideally) exclusive and scoopy, and most of all avoiding “the Crap Trap.” (Axios means “worthy” in Greek.)

The source: Allen appeared earlier today on the stage of TechCrunch Disrupt in New York, in a fireside chat with Anthony Ha. Alongside his observations on what form need-to-know information needs to take today, he also talked about how, despite what seems like life in a chaos baked in hell, Trump is supremely predictable: “Donald Trump is being Donald Trump.”

Brevity is the soul of wit, and of news: “When we push ourselves to explain something in a sentence or two, you have to really understand what you are working on,” he said. “You can’t have it all…. People want sophisticated explanations, but those do not mean long explanations.”

It’s a startup, too: Axios announced in September 2016 that it would be launching with $10 million in funding from a pretty illustrious set of media-savvy tech investors. They include Lerer Hippeau Ventures (the VC firm that helped launch BuzzFeed and HuffPost), Comcast Corp.’s NBC News, Emerson Collective (a social justice group headed by Laurene Powell Jobs), Greycroft Partners and Atlantic/Quartz owners David and Katherine Bradley.

Still, that’s only $10 million, and although Axios has advertising and more monetization up its sleeve, growing can be pricey. Are you raising more money, I asked? “It’s only been 118 days,” Allen fired back to me backstage. I’ll take that as a no/no comment.

Why it matters: Media is dying, we’ve all been told, and yet it sometimes feels like everywhere you turn, a new media company is starting up, with a new spin on how to bring us what we need to know, and what we might just like to know. Axios.com believes it’s come up with the right formula to successfully make the leap from the burning platform.