At UC Berkeley talk, founder of Politico says media, consumers must collaborate to ‘squeeze out fake news’

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Aren Saunders-Gonzalez/Staff

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Jim VandeHei, co-founder of Axios and Politico, revealed the inspirations behind the two platforms, his goals as a content producer and his perspective on the future of media consumption at a UC Berkeley event Thursday evening.

VandeHei spoke at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism in an event organized by the Berkeley Forum, where he fielded questions from the crowd and engaged in a Q&A session with forum moderator Michael Chien. The crowd — about 70 people — comprised both students and members of the Berkeley community.

“Change in the news media isn’t all for the worse,” said Edward Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism, when introducing VandeHei.

VandeHei’s vision for Politico, a nonpartisan news outlet dedicated to politics and policy-making, was to address the lack of depth and analysis he found in political coverage a decade ago. Axios, which was launched in January, aims to produce serious but engaging and easy-to-consume content on significant topics, according to VandeHei.

“It’s not enough just to be smart about politics. You have to understand technology and media trends and science and the collision of those topics,” VandeHei said in an interview with The Daily Californian.

VandeHei, a former reporter with the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, said the way he grew up producing journalism no longer fits people’s consumption practices. Despite this, VandeHei said he believes his experiences in exercising intellectual curiosity and skepticism as a journalist helped him become the CEO and entrepreneur he is today.

“One of the things about journalism is … you end up being pretty clinical about the challenges you face,” VandeHei said.

During his talk, VandeHei addressed new dynamics in the world of journalism, which he attributed in part to platforms such as Google and Facebook that occupy people while staying largely unregulated. VandeHei added that change would be inspired by news companies putting out content that people want to read and people demanding better news.

VandeHei said that through the duality of companies helping readers navigate information and readers using information put forth by companies, the two parties can begin to “squeeze out fake news” and restore faith in journalism.

“I’m a lot more scared that people don’t believe real news,” VandeHei said during the event.

Much of Axios’ credibility, VandeHei said, comes from hiring people who are already respected in their fields. He attributed the company’s worth to the “smart brevity” offered by its site and user interface.

Cameron Illes, a campus MBA student who attended the event, said he was drawn to the event because he follows Axios closely and enjoys politics and digital media. Fred Wilkinson, a Berkeley resident and retired physician in attendance, said that as a consumer of “what’s going on in the world,” he viewed different media platforms as efforts to create understanding.

VandeHei predicted that the next trends in media will come from faster networks and will integrate more elements of newsletters and podcasts for a “watch, listen and read” experience.

“The world is more complex and will get exponentially more complex,” VandeHei said. “For people who care about news, there needs to be a fuller understanding of information.”

Ani Vahradyan covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anivahrad.