Word of Axios making a push into the ever-competitive genre has been around for a while, dating back to a NBC News write-up from March, but we’re getting final details today. To begin with, the show will be called Axios Today, and it will take the form of ten minute-long episodes that drop every weekday before 6 am ET. Hosting duties will be held by public radio veteran Niala Boodhoo, and when the show debuts next week, it will do so with two launch sponsors: Chevron and Goldman Sachs.
A brief primer for those who need it: Axios is a news media company launched back in 2017 by Politico’s Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen, and Roy Schwartz. Its big editorial concept is what they like to call “smart brevity” — basically, news, but pithier — and the company has built currency in the years since through a combination of rapid-fire scoops, an aggressive sense of ubiquity, and the occasional controversy. For media nerds like myself, one of Axios’ more interesting qualities has been its relative newsletter-centricity. Building off Mike Allen’s reputation with Politico Playbook, Axios originally rolled out as a spread of journalist-driven newsletters that still strikes me as an effective deployment of the journalist-as-brand. The company has since diversified out to other platforms, as you would expect from any healthy modern media operation. For instance, it has a show on HBO these days, plus a fresh new mobile app.
And now, of course, Axios will soon have its own flagship daily news podcast. One should note, though, that Axios Today isn’t the company’s first audio product. It’s not even its first daily audio product. That honor goes to Dan Primack’s Pro Rata pod, which was rebranded and re-released yesterday as an afternoon brief called Re:Cap. However, Axios Today marks a significantly bigger audio investment for the company, evidenced by the fact that the morning podcast is being produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries, the successful podcast studio founded by Malcolm Gladwell and former Slate Group editor-in-chief Jacob Weisberg. I suppose it’s also worth noting that when taken together, the two podcasts — one morning oriented, one afternoon oriented — makes for potentially interesting bookends to a news consumer’s day.
I’m told that host Niala Boodhoo officially joined the company at the top of the month. Previously, Boodhoo was the host and executive producer of The 21st, Illinois Public Media’s statewide news talk show. She held those roles for about three years before stepping down last summer to take part in the year-long Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellowship Program at the University of Michigan, where she focused her work on podcasting and podcast business models. With Axios Today, Boodhoo is returning to the grind of the daily news programming, a choice she made after briefly considering launching her own podcast studio after finishing the Knight-Wallace program. “Turns out, I don’t really want to be running a company,” she said.
The intent with Axios Today is to “take the intelligence of public radio and the speed of commercial radio,” Boodhoo says, adding that part of what appealed to her about working for Axios was the opportunity to “do journalism differently.” She argues that a smart, concise, and conversational approach to daily news podcasting is still up for grabs in the genre, further noting that such a product would have even more value in the pandemic era, where the risk of news fatigue is higher than usual.
News fatigue potential is only one of many challenges that Axios Today faces with its launch. Two others that stand out: firstly, the aforementioned reality that the daily news podcast space is incredibly competitive, some would say saturated, and that’s even before you get beyond the list of shows from news brands with established podcast presences: the New York Times, NPR, Vox Media, the Washington Post, Slate, the Wall Street Journal, ABC News, and so on. Secondly, the podcast, which is set to drop in the early mornings, will also be rolling out in an environment where listener behavior has been significantly altered by the pandemic. The past few months saw the daily commute — a strong listening context for morning news podcasts — broadly fade away due to the pandemic lockdowns, though that may very well change as the country opens back up to whatever event. (And then maybe change again when it has to re-lockdown, which is a distinct American possibility.) Nevertheless, Boodhoo believes that Axios Today’s relative brevity — specifically, its capacity to not take up too much time from a listener’s day — would serve as a possible check against these hurdles. Its ten-minute length would be short enough to squeeze into a daily news podcast mix, and further, its shortness presents listeners with a lower friction option for news consumers who might prefer a brisk catch-up as opposed to an involved emotional engagement.
Boodhoo will have a considerable team behind her. It consists of senior producer Carol Alderman, who joined Axios from the Washington Post’s audio team; associate producers Cara Shillenn, who comes from Radio America, and Nuria Marquez Martinez, most recently an intern at NPR; and sound engineer Alex Sugiura. Another detail worth noting: the push to get Axios Today off the ground — and Axios deeper into audio more broadly — was said to be led by Axios executive editor Sara Kehaulani Goo, who joined the company earlier this year from NPR, where she most recently served as managing editor.
When we spoke, Boodhoo took a beat to emphasize the diversity of the team, and how she feels that will be central to the value of the show. “The past two weeks have brought into sharp focus for me just how proud I am of my background, to be a woman of color hosting this show, and to have a team this diverse producing this show,” she said. “I’m not Black, but I’m a Brown woman in America… when I left The 21st, I remember there were a number of people who told me that they appreciated my perspective and what I brought to the story. I think that’s incredibly important, and more diversity is something this space needs, and I’m proud to be working for a place like Axios that appreciates my lived experience.”
Again, Axios Today officially launches next Monday. You can find it here. The trailer is up already.