Recent ownership changes of three influential news publications pose interesting questions for librarians and researchers

Axel Springer signed an agreement to acquire POLITICO, Nexstar acquired digital media platform The Hill, and Forbes merged with the special interest acquisition company Magnum Opus Acquisition Ltd.

Berlin, Germany-based Axel Springer will acquire POLITICO, including the remaining 50 percent share of its current joint venture POLITICO Europe, as well as the tech news website Protocol from Robert Allbritton. The price is rumoured to be over $1 billion. . Subject to regulatory approval, the transaction is expected to close in Q4 2021.

According to the 26 August 2021 press release, “POLITICO will complement and strengthen Axel Springer’s portfolio with an authoritative voice offering inside perspective and analysis of politics and policy in Washington D.C., across the U.S., and around the globe. Together with INSIDER and Morning Brew, which are already part of the company’s portfolio, Axel Springer’s U.S.-headquartered news brands will have a significant reach.” It will join other Axel Springer diverse media brands, including BILD, DIE WELT, INSIDER, POLITICO Europe, eMarketer, Rolling Stone, B.Z., and Business Insider, along with classified portals StepStone Group and AVIV Group.

POLITICO, founded in 2007 as The Politico, employs over 700 journalists at POLITICO and its sister publication Protocol, which started in 2020. It is all digital but its profitability stems from the traditional printed news model of subscriptions plus advertising. In 2014 it entered into a joint venture agreement with Axel Springer to launch POLITICO Europe.

Allbritton, who will remain as publisher, said his motivation for selling was about “the responsibility to grow the business on a global scale, to better serve the audience and create more opportunities for our employees” with an investor that aligned with the values of POLITICO. The editorial and management leadership teams of POLITICO in the U.S., POLITICO Europe and Protocol will remain in place, and will continue to operate their publications separately from Axel Springer’s other U.S.-headquartered brands. U.S. private equity investor KKR owns around 48% of Axel Springer.

Nexstar Buys The Hill

Nexstar Media Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Nexstar Media Group, Inc. announced the acquisition of The Hill for $130 million on 20 August 2021. Nexstar Media, based in Irving, Texas, operates 199 cable news television stations that reach 116 U.S. markets through local affiliates of all the major U.S. TV networks in its Broadcasting Division. The Digital Division operates 120 local websites and 284 mobile apps offering hyper-local content. Its Networks Division operates NewsNation, a U.S. news and entertainment cable network.

The Hill, founded in 1998, is an independent, political digital media platform in the U.S. Nexstar believes it will complement NewsNation in delivering “trusted, unbiased, fact-based journalism” that is politically centrist. The largest investor in The Hill was the private investment firm HRS Management LLC. Nexstar sees the acquisition as a continuation of its “content-first strategy, focused primarily on news, designed to further leverage and monetize its expansive digital reach.”

The Hill has over 100 journalists who “cover political news and events and provide a wide variety of engaging content to its users” and has advertising as its main revenue source. “Nexstar’s omni-channel approach to content distribution will allow it to expand The Hill’s reach and revenue channels” by capitalizing on synergies with other Nexstar entities.

Forbes Goes Public with a SPAC Merger

On 26 August 2021, the venerable business publishing company Forbes Global Media Holdings Inc. announced that it would transition to a publicly-traded company through a merger with Hong Kong-bases special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Magnum Opus Acquisition Ltd.

The press release said, “The transaction is expected to close in late fourth quarter 2021 or early first quarter 2022 and will enable Forbes to further capitalize on its successful digital transformation, using technology and data-driven insights to create more deeply engaged audiences, and associated high-quality and recurring revenue streams.”

Unlike the ownership changes at POLITICO and The Hill, Forbes has a long history as a print publication. It was not born digital and the movement of readers away from print has caused it to change strategies, seeking revenue from live events, education, and ecommerce. Now based in Jersey City, Forbes is led by the founder’s grandson, Steve Forbes. Integrated Whale Media, a Hong Kong-bases investor group, took a majority stake in 2014. After the deal closes, Forbes will list on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol FRBS.

What This Means for Library Researchers

 Digital disruption of news information is nothing new to librarians or to researchers. But these three ownership changes, all announced within a few days of each other, throws the research of news events into stark relief. Forbes, as a print publication, was an early entrant into library databases, and has been part of LexisNexis since 1985 and within other major databases since the early 1990s. When it expanded its footprint beyond the print magazine, to various online platforms, most notably, it generally provided only staff-written articles, not those written by contributors, to databases produced by Dow Jones Factiva, EBSCO, LexisNexis, and ProQuest.

POLITICO and The Hill are largely not included in most subscription databases that aggregate news, although Factiva does list The Hill as a source and Politico (Online) is in Eureka and Europresse. Researchers who rely on those databases will miss news stories that could provide historical context unless librarians direct them to the actual platforms.

This raises another interesting point. Both POLITICO and The Hill refer to themselves as digital platforms not as content providers. The disruption they caused not only affected news media and journalism but also library research. When the content they create is not included in aggregated databases, it’s difficult, if not impossible, for librarians and researchers to honestly claim they have checked with all possible sources of information on a news-related topic. Plus, there’s little incentive for digital platforms to preserve older content. That’s a job for database producers and librarians. Let’s hope that, taking advantage of ownership changes, we can nudge these three companies toward digital preservation of content on library subscription databases.