Many local publications have faced a dire reality across the country for the last 15 years: Dwindling subscriptions, slashed advertising, mass layoffs, and shuttered newsrooms.
After five years of building their locally-focused digital publication, Levans and Williams sold the Charlotte Agenda to Axios for nearly $5 million, according to a New York Times article that first reported the acquisition in December of 2020. The publication has rebranded to become Axios Charlotte.
“Local media is in crisis right now,” Williams wrote in a piece reflecting on the deal. “Together, we have the opportunity to provide a blueprint for what a modern local media company can look like in communities across the country.”
The Charlotte Agenda generated $2 million in annual revenue with 11 full-time staffers serving 650,000 monthly readers, according to the New York Times. In addition to its remarkable readership numbers for a local publication, the Charlotte Agenda’s patrons were particularly engaged as its newsletters averaged a 40% open rate.
How Williams sold the Charlotte Agenda to Axios
Williams secured the deal in part thanks to an article he read in the Wall Street Journal detailing Axios’ plans to invest in local news. He sent Axios CEO Jim VandeHei an email and received an eager reply in two minutes. The two started chatting, discovered their approach to local media aligned, and they struck a deal in a few months, according to Williams’ article on the deal.
Axios’ acquisition of the Charlotte Agenda represents its strategy to invest in local news. The news organization — which was on pace to surpass $61 million in 2020, per the New York Times — aims to replicate the Charlotte Agenda’s success in Tampa, Denver, Minneapolis, and Des Moines.
Williams continues to lead Axios Charlotte, while Levans left the company in 2019, prior to the acquisition, to start the clothing brand Ruthie.
Williams declined to comment for this story.