Protocol, the upstart technology news website launched by former Politico owner and publisher Robert Allbritton in early 2020, will shutter later this week and lay off dozens of staffers, people familiar with the matter told CNN on Tuesday.
Staffers were told at an all-hands meeting Tuesday that the news organization would cease publishing on its website Thursday. The outlet’s flagship newsletter, Source Code, will continue publishing for several more weeks, but all other newsletters will stop after Tuesday.
The shuttering of the news organization will impact approximately 60 staffers, people familiar with the matter said. They will remain active employees through Friday, December 16, and then become eligible for eight weeks of severance, the people added.
Allbritton announced the launch of Protocol in late 2019 to much buzz. The Washington media mogul told Vanity Fair at the time that he wanted to replicate Politico’s successful model for the technology industry.
“I would love for this to be as big as, if not larger than, Politico is right now,” Allbritton told Vanity Fair in 2019.
But Protocol never had much luck. Shortly after launching, the global pandemic unleashed brutal economic headwinds on the media industry, resulting in several cuts to staff. Finally, when it seemed that the outlet might catch its footing as the pandemic’s grip on the economy lifted, German publishing giant Axel Springer closed a deal to purchase Politico. That resulted in the acquisition of Protocol, which had been operated independently, being folded into Politico Media Group.
Goli Sheikholeslami, the chief executive of the Political Media Group, has for months been working with Axel Springer to conduct a long-term strategy planning process to best position the company. The plan, people are familiar with the matter said, is to double the size of the company by 2027.
But it comes as Big Tech firms have particularly faced challenging economic conditions, making it especially challenging for the Protocol to generate revenue from advertising sales to the sector, people are familiar with the matter said.
“The reality is that the ad market tightened, particularly in the tech space, which exacerbated some of the existing challenges that are typical of a new startup,” one person explained.
People are familiar with the matter said that Protocol will again fall significantly short of revenue goals in 2022. And the outlook for next year looked grim, given the worsening economy and battering the technology industry has endured in recent months.
After evaluating several options, the executives ultimately decided that it didn’t make sense to continue operating the Protocol, people are familiar with the matter said. Instead, the decision was made to shutter it and bolster technology coverage at Politico, where some displaced Protocol staffers may be able to find new roles.
“We have great appreciation for the impact of the journalism that Protocol has produced, and I want to personally thank each of them for the unique talents they brought to Protocol,” Sheikholeslami wrote in an email to staffers Tuesday afternoon. Sheikholeslami reiterated that Politico saw “a great opportunity in technology coverage” and wanted “to win the conversation on the future of tech in the same way we do politics.”
As part of the long-term strategy evaluation, Sheikholeslami was also set on Tuesday to announce other changes to the Politico Media Group. Most notably, Politico US and EU will combine to form one operational company with a single executive team.
That team will be comprised of Mark Dean, chief operating officer; Matt Kaminski, editor in chief US; Jamil Anderlini, editor-in-chief of Europe; Cally Baute, executive vice president and general manager, consumer business; Nicolas Sennegon, executive vice president and managing director, Politico Europe; Rachel Loeffler, executive vice president and general manager, professional business, US; Meredith Jolivert, vice president and general counsel; and Brad Dayspring, vice president of marketing and communications.
Sheikholeslami said that Claire Boussagol, CEO of Politico Europe, will also leave the company.