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AI and the future of media: Insights from Axios CEO | What’s New in Publishing

Jim VandeHei, CEO of leading digital news publisher Axios, has shared his thoughts on the impact of AI

The co-founder and CEO of leading digital news publisher Axios, Jim VandeHei, has written a column outlining the thinking around AI that is informing the decisions the company is currently making. He said AI will transform the future of media on a scale and at a pace that rivals the introduction of the internet 20 years ago.

Why it matters

  • In a news market that has seen many publishers struggle, Axios has enjoyed rapid growth since it was founded in 2017. The company was acquired in 2022 for $525 million.
  • Looking to the future, VandeHei believes that the media companies that survive will be those that adapt quickly to fast-changing consumer needs. With that front of mind, the team at Axios has spent months talking to people building AI technologies.
  • He says a lot of Axios readers ask about trust in the media and his focus on AI has been to think about how the technologies can help, or harm, the creation, distribution and consumption of high-quality, trusted content.

8 transformations

VandeHei has zoomed in on eight transformations that seem likely to impact the future for Axios and of media more generally.

1. Expertise
The Axios CEO said the days of ‘gaming’ social media algorithms are coming to an end. He thinks that means commoditized, general interest content will become less valuable. He expects to see fewer big, generic brands and more niche companies serving the passions of their audiences. He said:

Any company betting only on high traffic seems doomed. The demand for subject matter expertise will rise fast.

2. Trust
The rise of AI will increase the amount of ‘fake and doctored’ content. Readers will look for safer trusted sources to deliver news directly instead of through the side door of social media. Advertisers will follow them to safer, ‘well-lit’ spaces, creating a healthy incentive for some publishers to ditch the ‘litter’ that messes up their sites today.

3. Direct relationships
Soon, consumers can expect to get fully written search results with AI-driven search, providing smart answers instead of links. VandeHei said this will slow or cut off a ‘highly valuable pipeline’ of web traffic. In response, publishers will be forced to strengthen direct relationships with their audiences.

4. The inbox
As AI makes email easier to write, answer and sort, newsletters will become increasingly important and the inbox will develop into an indispensable content destination and repository. VandeHei says: 

Some argue website homepages will rise in importance, too. But that strikes me as silly. That’s not how consumers want content. They’re accustomed to important stuff getting pushed to them.

5. Efficiency
Audiences will also look for content to be delivered as efficiently as possible. The need to see news won’t die, but younger audiences will want it shorter and on-demand. This will be even more true as new technologies fight for attention.

6. Depth
As the bulk of content gets shorter, audiences will have time for deep-dive content – magazine-style features and podcasts – that are ‘truly excellent’. The middle tier of ‘boring’ stories written to fill holes on a website will die.

7. Healthy content
There is too much doom and gloom on television and on many news sites. VandeHei says audiences want – and deserve – a better mix of healthy and helpful content.

8. Information inequality
Looking to the future of media, there has never been a better time for ‘discerning readers’ to access high-quality content. Equally, it has never been easier to create and distribute ‘distracting, disgusting or deceitful information. VandeHei says:

This will give a massive edge to those who can smartly navigate and exploit the next explosion of media change.

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