On average, two newspapers halt production every week in the United States. A report by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism Local News Initiative found that between late 2019 and the end of May 2022, more than 360 newspapers closed.
It’s an ongoing trend. Since 2005, a quarter of U.S. newspapers shuttered, and another third will close their doors by 2025.
Enter Axios, a media company known for its national business and politics news coverage delivered in its Smart Brevity® format. Axios provides modern news to more than 24 communities and more than 1 million readers across the U.S. through Axios Local. The company hires the local journalists in each city it operates in to write daily newsletters featuring original reporting, scoops and local coverage worthy of readers’ time.
Bridging the information gap
As Axios scales, the company has started to look for additional support for its journalism and community investments. With that in mind, it now offers users job boards and membership programs in an attempt to diversify its revenue.
Chief Technology Officer Melanie Colton oversees product, engineering, corporate IT, infrastructure and design. To make such products a reality, her department has been assessing what resources Axios needs to support internal operational growth as well as expanding the platform to support local news at scale.
“We adjudicated what third-party tooling may get us further quicker and assessed and invested in those partnerships,” Colton told Built In. “I only want to build what is either our core competency or what isn’t met by what’s in the market as the result of unique business needs.”
Colton and her team also simplified the existing tech stack, improved and modernized Axios’ core platform, and invested in consumer insights and data engineering to centralize Axios’ product portfolio, which was used to inform new third-party and in-house products.
“This visibility indicates progress, trends and learnings on how best to reach audiences in new markets, where to expand and where we may need to make adjustments,” Colton said.
Achieving a successful product launch required more than just internal reflection, new tools, flexibility and strong data. It required collaboration.
“We openly brainstorm and align on strategy, measurements of success, and then the prioritization of our efforts across departments and teams to assure success. Then, we can focus on what matters to deliver on our goals together,” Colton said.
Built In sat down with Colton to find out more about the product development process, including the challenges she and her team faced and how they worked to overcome them.
What obstacles did you encounter when developing these new products, and how did you successfully overcome them?
Hiring was one of our top challenges. We had key roles to fill across the entire department and a massive undertaking. Delays in building what Axios needed would result in missed opportunities. We decided to engage in a strategic partnership with a staffing vendor while we proved out the business lines and actively worked to hire the right folks for the right roles full-time. Once the expansion of the business lines showed their success, we could invest in growing the team further. We took on aggressive growth, but with a responsible approach.
How did you keep team members motivated and aligned throughout the product development process?
We bring the same Axios DNA into our department around transparency. We understand how providing context, a view into the strategy, and space to contribute to the product development process is critical for the entire department. We align on OKRs; share demos across teams; bring folks from around the business to provide deeper context on how the work we do is impacting success; have simple ways for the stakeholders to show appreciation and give kudos; and celebrate our wins along the way.
“We took on aggressive growth, but with a responsible approach.”
What teams did you collaborate with in order to get this across the finish line? What strategies did you employ to ensure that cross-functional collaboration went smoothly?
Product, tech and design work across literally every department in the organization. That’s always the fun and challenging part of our jobs. It takes collaboration across the entire company to make our expansion into local cities a reality, and our department supports them all. We hire top local editorial talent in each region and provide them with the right publishing tools to work efficiently; support marketing efforts and new audience acquisition, build the site experiences; support the sales and advertising efforts; and then provide reporting and consumer insights for those teams to measure success and determine next steps.
We meet regularly as a cross-collaborative team to talk through deliverables, impacts, dependencies and any shifts to scheduling. Clear and timely communication is key. Every two weeks, we use our internal communications SaaS product, Axios HQ, to send newsletters from the product development teams to keep our stakeholders abreast of how we’re tracking, what’s launched and what’s on the horizon.
“Axios makes certain that everyone shares the same knowledge and the same vision so we move in the same direction. It takes intentionality, transparency and ruthless alignment.”
When you think of other companies in your industry, how does Axios compare when it comes to how you build and launch new products?
Axios makes certain that everyone shares the same knowledge and the same vision so we move in the same direction toward the company’s goals. This may sound like something companies should take for granted, but it’s not. It takes intentionality, transparency and ruthless alignment. Our CEO believes in Smart Brevity in everything we do, including in how we work. Axios is efficient in decision making, approaching product delivery and focusing on only what matters.