Old resentments between Mr. VandeHei, Mr. Harris and Mr. Allbritton then boiled over. Mr. VandeHei, Mr. Allen and the company’s Chief Revenue Officer Roy Schwartz left Politico and started the Axios newsletter outfit, an instant hit that became a serious competitor. The move ended what had seemed to outsiders to be a close friendship between Mr. Allbritton and Mr. VandeHei, even though Mr. Allbritton said he did not take it personally.
“Lots of other people had much bigger emotional reactions than I did,” he said, beaming.
He also said he doesn’t see Axios as a competitor as its coverage is “wider” than Politico’s. He referred to recent Axios articles on Apple News and the hurricane approaching New Orleans.
“We would never write an article on meteorology,” said Allbritton.
But Mr. VandeHei’s departure didn’t go well with his former long-time editorial partner, Mr. Harris, and the site’s new editor, Carrie Budoff Brown. “Politico implodes,” said The Post happily. And when Axios took on the shine of hot news, the rivalry between the two publications became fierce. (At this point, assigning the blame for the violation is a bit like trying to smooth out the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.)
Mr Harris spent the next year convincing Politico’s reporters and editors not to leave the ship while Ms. Budoff Brown reorganized the newsroom and worked to improve a workplace culture that some employees have described as abrasive and sometimes sexist.
In May, Mr. Allbritton said that he had gotten wind that Mr. VandeHei was in talks to sell Axios to Axel Springer. Has he started negotiating with the Germans to spoil Mr VandeHei’s deal? I figured that might have been part of the attraction. And in Politico’s press release announcing the proposed sale, a quote from Mr. Allbritton suggested: “Just over the past few years,” he said, “we’ve been focusing on doing, not bragging.” A Spokesman denied that the management was directed at his former colleagues, and Mr. Allbritton said that after years of flirting with Axel Springer, he was simply ready to admit that his family business did not have the “strength” it needed to continue growing.
“We’re better off if this release goes to a large global company,” he said.
On the day of the announcement, the New York Times reported that Axel Springer may still be looking for a deal for Axios – maybe VandeHei would become CEO after the two publications merged? (I always assumed that one day he would run for office in his native Wisconsin.) Politico executives in Washington urged the German firm to add a staunch denial to the story, which they did.
When asked why he chose Politico over Axios, Mr. Döpfner told me in a telephone interview: “It’s an easy decision to choose No. 1.” Mr. VandeHei called the sale “great news” for companies that Produce quality journalism, in a text sent to me.