Local News, The Axios Way

Dec. 22, 2020

A little while back I mentioned how some national players are encroaching on local news outlets’ territory and warned that if local outlets don’t get their acts together, they will be in big(ger) trouble.

Axios was one of the national outlets I mentioned that was eyeing the local space. Last week the company announced a bunch of hires for its new newsletter product in four local markets — Denver, Des Moines, Tampa and Minneapolis (plus another site it purchased in Charlotte). 

One of those hires is Torey Van Oot, who was a politics and government reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune before making the jump to Axios. 

Van Oot and I used to work together at NBC a few years back, and she was kind enough to talk about what folks can expect from this new local news venture.

Here are the basics, according to Van Oot:

  • There will be two-person teams in each market creating the newsletters, which will be published in the early mornings five days a week (M-F)
  • They will include aggregation of other media outlets, plus some original reporting and analysis
  • The ad-supported newsletter will be free for subscribers (the initial "launch sponsor" is Facebook)

So what will this newsletter look and feel like for subscribers? Well, think “smart brevity,” which is a hallmark of other Axios email offerings.

“We can’t cover every story that the local outlets can cover,” Van Oot said. “But what we can do is give someone a service that is a little bit of a distilled version of what they need to know about their community and why it matters, and do it in a smart, clear way."

“There are (existing) newsletters just focused on politics and those insiders, and link roundups, but those are mostly promoting that news organization’s content,” she added. “This is an opportunity to take a cross-section of what is happening and distill it down for readers.”

That thinking matches their motto: “We’ll help readers get smarter, faster.”

Van Oot said her newsletter is not going to try being the paper of record for the area. The newsletter might only have five to eight items in it each day. But what she and her colleague will attempt to do is tie everything together to give their audience in the Twin Cities the bigger picture and make the news, well, make sense.

“The one big thing that leads the newsletter isn’t just the headline of the day,” she said. “It could be a bigger issue or trend that is connected to the news of the day or week.”

There also will be some personality and voice sprinkled in from the newsletter teams. Van Oot kicked that off in her introductory email to subscribers, as you can see here:

“One of the first things we did was send an email to subscribers to say, ‘I’m Torey. This is what we’re doing. This is what you can expect,’ along with some background and personal information,” she said, adding that she was encouraged by how many people wrote back to say hi or to give story suggestions.

So will it work? Minneapolis was a curious choice as there are many local news outlets already around the Twin Cities, including the Star Tribune. The Strib is a powerhouse news organization with a strong reader base (especially still in print). The Star Tribune also has a lot of newsletter offerings already (although for the life of me I can't figure out how to subscribe to any of them from their homepage or section pages, which is super frustrating).

But Van Oot thinks that robust news ecosystem, an interesting political environment, and strong medical, tech and retail companies in the area make Minneapolis-St. Paul a perfect place to launch a local news newsletter. It has a lot of news to decipher, and there could be a strong advertising base, as well. 

“Success will be delivering a product to our readers that is valuable and makes them feel they are better informed about the news unfolding in their backyards,” Van Oot said. “You can measure in subscriptions and open rates and responses. But we want to make a product that people love and enjoy and read and engage with. Hopefully, if that works, and we can prove that interest in these markets, it could be replicated or expanded.

“The first goal,” she added, “is to create something that is valuable.”

RELATED: Axios Buys Charlotte Agenda, a Digital Start-Up, as Part of Push Into Local News