Melanie Colton has years of senior tech experience for big hitters in media such as HBO, Conde Nast and Hearst. But Arlington, Virginia-based Axios still reigns as “the most intentional newsroom” she’s ever worked with.
Colton, the SVP of product and engineering, joined Axios in April 2020. Since then, Axios has reported on what will likely be the biggest stories of the decade: a national reckoning with racial justice and equity, the ongoing pandemic, development of a COVID-19 vaccine and the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“Axios, through everything, has maintained a very clinical and fact-based approach to journalism with the understanding that there’s a guiding manifesto,” she said. “We believe in data and science, and we believe that humans should be treated equally. So, the reporting is fact-based and nonpartisan, but at the same time, with a standard core set of beliefs that has always resonated with me and even drew me to the company.” (Read the Axios Bill of Rights for more details on how the ethos of the company interacts with its reporting.)
Colton, who is based in Brooklyn, said she’s still not met half of the team she manages — but she’s fully tapped into Axios’s mission. The company’s five guiding principles are:
- Audience first
- Elegant efficiency
- Smart, always
- No BS for sale
- Excellence, always
Read more to learn what Colton prioritizes as a leader and how tech enhances Axios’s content.
Anonymous questions in meetings and open dialogue drive candor at Axios
Colton heads the product and engineering department at Axios, meaning all of the technical products that drive engagement — such as newsletters, the company’s website and mobile app.
With such varied responsibility on her shoulders, Colton spent her first six to eight weeks at Axios talking to stakeholders one-on-one to understand their roles and the company’s technical needs. Then, she organized a list of pain points and areas where she knew her team could excel with a little bolstering.
“I wanted to get off on the right foot with my team, and I’m a big fan of clarity and clear rules of engagement,” Colton said.
One area she narrowed her focus on was the product development lifecycle at the company. She developed clear definitions for each stage and a set of training materials to reflect the updates. Colton also organized training exercises to ensure all team members were up to speed and had a chance to engage with her about the changes.
Axios’s product and engineering department is also heavily focused on the launch of Axios Local, the company’s expansion into local news markets across the U.S. The product is already available in 14 cities, including Philadelphia, Austin, Columbus and Chicago.
New products and process changes can be a challenge for members of a department to grapple with. But, Colton said Axios’s prioritization of workplace candor makes for open conversations. Axios employees can ask anonymous questions of Colton at department meetings and of company leaders at all-staff meetings so any unresolved concerns are addressed.
As Axios hires more folks, the encouragement of open dialogue stands out to Colton as a positive.
“When we do see changes or flags come up, we get together, and we’re on top of addressing them and figuring out what’s happening,” she said. “Having a culture where folks pay attention to those things, and intentionally respond and have follow-through is critical.”
“It is part of your job to speak up openly and respectfully when you see things and talk about how to make them better and solve problems regardless of your level and tenure,” she added.
How Colton drives Axios’s mission with tech
Colton thinks of Axios not just as a media company, but a tech-enabled newsroom.
“The content itself stands on its own, but the purpose of the technology we use is to harness the ability to expose as many people as possible to the great content that we’re putting out,” Colton said.
To ensure Axios’s tech stays on task with the editorial team’s needs, Colton frequently speaks with Executive Editor Sara Goo and Editor-in-Chief Nicholas Johnston. Product team members will also attend news meetings to answer editors’ questions about developing technology and how it will impact delivery, and tech and editorial players have brainstorming sessions to discuss content delivery goals.
Supporting Axios’s journalism is “invigorating” for Colton because the company writes stories that “educate you about the things that affect your life. It’s really mission-driven content.”
“Being at the center of Axios’s technical enablement, my team constantly gets to make a major difference for everyone across the company, as well as the end-user,” Colton added. “It’s a very fun, impactful kind of a place to be. We have high expectations of one another, but it’s still the fairest work environment.”