News & Politics

Politico Sold for a Reported $1 Billion

The company's leadership will remain in place as part of the deal.

German publishing giant Axel Springer SE has agreed to purchase Politico, the companies announced Thursday. The price is reportedly around $1 billion.

Owner Robert Allbritton will stay on as publisher of Politico and its stablemate, the tech publication Protocol. The publications’ editorial and management will remain as is and they’ll operate separately from Insider and Morning Brew, Axel Springer’s other US publications. Politico Europe was already a 50-50 joint venture between Axel Springer and Politico; the Berlin-based company will now own all of it. The sale is expected to close in the last quarter of 2021.

Allbritton sent employees of his media concerns a memo after an all-hands phone call Thursday morning. The sale happened now because of long-term “close business and personal ties between the leadership of POLITICO and Axel Springer,” management wrote. They pledge “no changes of any kind for the indefinite future,” including with regard to salaries, filling open positions, or the overall org chart of each company. “There are no plans to merge Protocol with POLITICO or any other Axel Springer assets,” they write, and E&E News, the publication focused on energy and the environment that Politico bought last year, “will continue, as it does now, to keep its distinctive brand and product array, both highly respected with its audience and in the marketplace.”

What will change, the memo says, is Politico’s governing board, which currently includes co-founder John Harris; Duncan Evans and Robb Sjoberg, the CEO and managing director, respectively, of Allbritton’s private investment firm Perpetual Capital; and Allbritton. The board will continue with Allbritton and Evans, while Harris and Evans “have agreed to continue helping Robert with strategic oversight of the POLITICO and Protocol properties in his continuing capacity as Publisher.” Axel Springer will nominate future board members.

POLITICOs,

 We hope that you were able to join the call this morning to hear from Robert and John Harris, as well as Mathias Döpfner and Jan Beyer from Axel Springer. This is a monumental moment in POLITICO’s history, and we could not be more excited for what this means for our publication—and more specifically for each of you.

This is an important event in the professional lives of the nearly 1,000 journalists and business professionals who have helped build and grow POLITICO, E&E News, the POLITICO Europe joint venture, and Protocol. It also represents a historic milestone in both the U.S. and global media landscape. We know that this news is somewhat of a surprise and that you will have questions. Both Robert and Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Axel Springer, are committed to helping all employees understand in all the detail they need what this very significant transaction means for individuals, and for the larger future of the publications.

There will be ample opportunities in the weeks and months ahead to hear more directly from Robert and Mathias, as well as from each of us. What follows is a summary of the most important things every employee of POLITICO, E&E News, POLITICO Europe, and Protocol need to know.

 Please do not hesitate to reach out to any of us, or your direct manager with any additional questions that you have.  

 Take care,

Blendi, Brad, Cally, Danica, Joe , Joyce, Julie, Luiza , Matt, Meredith, Traci

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

On the morning of Aug. 26, 2021, Robert L. Allbritton shared the news that he has reached an agreement to sell POLITICO, E&E News, POLITICO’s 50 percent share of the POLITICO Europe joint venture, and Protocol Media LLC to Axel Springer SE, a global news and content company based in Berlin, Germany. When this purchase agreement goes to closing, which is expected to occur in Q4 2021, Axel Springer will become the 100 percent owner of the media properties now owned by Robert Allbritton.

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING NOW:

For seven years, there have been close business and personal ties between the leadership of POLITICO and Axel Springer, and in-particular between Robert and Mathias. Over these years, there have periodically been discussions about whether the two organizations should forge a closer partnership in light of the clear editorial and business success of the collaboration in Europe.

WHAT’S NOT CHANGING:

First things first. It is important for every employee to know that there will be no changes of any kind for the indefinite future—both before the transaction closing and afterward—on most of the specific day-to-day circumstances that affect employees at any level of Robert’s companies. That is true of salary and benefits—they will remain the same and be administered the same as they are now. There will be no change in the management organizational charts, on either the newsroom or publishing sides, of any properties owned by Robert involved in this sale. Open positions will be filled in the same fashion they have been in the past.

Axel Springer executives have stated their intention to keep their U.S. properties autonomous and managerially independent of one another. Specifically, there are not plans to integrate the editorial, financial, technology, or other operations of the media properties changing ownership in this transaction with the Axel Springer-owned Insider/Morning Brew properties. The POLITICO newsroom will continue to be run by editor in chief Matt Kaminski. He and Robert expect to fill the editor position opened by Carrie Budoff Brown’s departure this fall, and a search is underway. As Robert noted in his note on August 12th, earlier this year he stepped in (as publisher) to manage business operations and the executive team following the departure of Patrick Steel. All other business and newsroom leadership will remain unchanged.

Protocol’s growth strategy and business and editorial leadership is unchanged. Tammy Wincup will continue to lead the business with Tim Grieve as executive editor. There are no plans to merge Protocol with POLITICO or any other Axel Springer assets.  E&E News, which is currently owned by POLITICO, will continue, as it does now, to keep its distinctive brand and product array, both highly respected with its audience and in the marketplace. 

In short, the ownership of Robert’s media properties is changing. But the mission, values, leadership structure, operations, legal contracts and obligations, work assignments and above all people are not changing. Axel Springer has said that it is the authority, expertise, and passion of these journalists and business professionals that made these publications a compelling purchase. 

Even after closing, the business and editorial leadership of POLITICO Europe will continue to operate with the same people doing the same work. The European publishing market, and the daily news report, require hands-on, on-the-ground leadership in Brussels, which will be provided by POLITICO Europe CEO Claire Bussagol and incoming Editor-in-Chief Jamil Anderlini. Apart from that, there will be of course an openness to cooperation between POLITICO in the U.S. and POLITICO Europe.

WHAT IS CHANGING:

Today, Robert’s POLITICO and Protocol properties are overseen by a governing board that he chairs and includes POLITICO Founding Editor John Harris, Duncan Evans (CEO of Perpetual Capital, the holding company for Robert’s diversified business portfolio), and Robb Sjoberg (Managing Director at Perpetual Capital). Upon closing, Axel Springer will nominate the board members, and Robert and Duncan will serve on this new governance board.  After closing, both John and Duncan have agreed to continue helping Robert with strategic oversight of the POLITICO and Protocol properties in his continuing capacity as Publisher.

The sale represents something of a historical irony for Politico: As Luke Mullins reported in 2016, Politico co-founder Jim VandeHei “became captivated by the idea of a deal” with Axel Springer but owner Robert Allbritton wasn’t interested at the time. Tensions over this disagreement contributed to VandeHei leaving Politico and eventually starting Axios. Axios was reportedly in talks to sell to Axel Springer this past spring, but it remains an independent publication.

August has been hot, hot, hot for sales of DC-area media properties: The Hill sold to local TV giant Nexstar for $130 million last Friday. The Wall Street Journal reported on August 16 that Politico was in talks with Axel Springer.

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.