This week: an interesting story, an interesting technology, an ask, and the magic of the (snail) mail.

First up, Axios has hired Felix Salmon and Courtenay Brown. I read Salmon, in particular, and couldn’t be more excited to see him in a new home. But for our purposes, it gives us a news peg to think about Axios.

Quick brief for those new to Axios: a group of Politico’s key leadership, and some of its key reportorial talent left in late 2016 with the goal of launching a subscription newsletter business for busy professionals. It launched in 2017, with the mantra of “smart brevity” – very short pieces that get right to the point. A core part of the strategy has been to hire reporters who can command audiences via newsletters (think Mike Allen’s Playbook, which put Politico on the map). According to the above-linked Vanity Fair piece, weekly advertising rates for those newsletters can command $75,000 to reach 200,000 subscribers. They’ve raised some $30 million, and are developing additional revenue streams like content licencing with HBO.

This is particularly interesting in light of last week’s letter. (And, I’ll admit, is a bit meta.) Axios is showing an “obvious” alternative strategy for a modern media organization: smart, non-dependent use of tech platforms.  Axios does its own distribution. As we’ve been saying at Shorenstein, newsletters are one of the few ways to reach people that don’t depend on another company that can charge for access to an audience. They also give editorial control that a Facebook post or Google ad don’t.

This isn’t exactly a new strategy, and marketers have long known the value of “owned” media, but it’s a trend I expect to explode over the next year. As the difficulty of working with (or, maybe, for) large tech platforms becomes clearer, people will be increasingly willing to do the hard work of reaching an audience, and owning that connection. In many ways, this is also the same logic that underlies the growth in interest in reader-revenue at news publications as well.

Now, on to a bit of technology. A few friends of mine from the Berkman Klein Center are working on a new technology, called Underlay, designed to help make visible from where a fact is sourced inside a document. We’ve been talking about use cases, and journalism (particularly in the era of “fake news”) is an obvious one.

Now for the ask: we’re looking for media partners who want to try publishing a big, serious piece with some technology that is developed by the Underlay team. We’re still in the early stages, but news with a knowledge graph attached to it is something I’d like to see exist in the world. So, if you are such a person, or can forward this note to one… do so, and get in touch.


About Working Paper

Working Paper is a boutique management consultancy run by Andrew Gruen.  We develop research-based strategies for media organizations, research universities, and advertisers. 



  • Given that I currently am shipping myself 27 boxes, including my entire library (more below), I can’t recommend the Deliveries App enough. I’ve been using it for years, and it does a great job of keeping all my, well, deliveries in one place.

| Making use of Media Mail |


  • Not an upgrade per se, but one that certainly makes travel easier.
  • I was reminded that most folks don’t know about the United States Postal Service’s Media Mail or M-Bag services.
  • I shipped my entire library, from undergrad to today, across the country for less than $200. When in grad school, I used the M-Bag to send myself books overseas – a service that originated after World War II to help re-stock libraries in Europe.

I’m Reading

I’m Listening To