Protocol, the tech website launched in early 2020 by former Politico owner and publisher Robert Allbritton, will close this week and lay off dozens of employees, people familiar with the matter told CNN on Tuesday.
Staff were told at a general meeting on Tuesday that the news organization will stop publishing on its website on Thursday. The outlet’s flagship newsletter, Source Code, will continue to be published for several weeks, but all other newsletters will stop on Tuesday.
The news outlet’s closing will affect about 60 employees, people familiar with the matter said. They will remain on active duty until Friday, Dec. 16, after which they will be eligible for eight weeks of severance pay, the people added.
Allbritton’s announcement of the launch of Protocol in late 2019 caused quite a stir. The Washington media mogul told Vanity Fair at the time that he wanted to replicate Politico’s successful model for the tech industry.
“I wish this was as big as Politico is right now, if not bigger,” Allbritton told Vanity Fair in 2019.
But the Protocol never had much luck. Shortly after its launch, the global pandemic hit the media industry with severe economic headwinds, leading to layoffs. Finally, just when it looked like the outlet might find its footing, as the pandemic lifted its grip on the economy, German publishing giant Axel Springer closed a deal to buy Politico. As a result of this acquisition, Protocol, which had operated independently, became part of Politico Media Group.
Goli Sheikholeslami, CEO of Political Media Group, has been working with Axel Springer for months to carry out a long-term strategy planning process to best position the company. The plan, people familiar with the matter said, is to double the company’s size by 2027.
But that comes as Big Tech companies have faced particularly difficult economic conditions, making it particularly difficult for the Protocol sector to generate revenue from ad sales, people familiar with the matter said.
“The reality is that the ad market got tight, especially in the tech space, which exacerbated some of the existing challenges that are typical of a new startup,” one person explained.
People familiar with the matter said the Protocol will once again fall significantly short of its revenue targets in 2022. And the outlook for next year looked bleak, given the worsening economy and the blow to the tech industry in recent months.
After evaluating various options, executives ultimately decided it didn’t make sense to continue operating the Protocol, people familiar with the matter said. Instead, the decision was made to close Politico and strengthen technology coverage, where some of the displaced Protocol staff may be able to find new roles.
As part of his long-term strategy review, Sheikholeslami was also set to announce other changes at Politico Media Group on Tuesday. Most notably, Politico US and EU will combine to create one operating company with a single executive team.
That team will be made up of Mark Dean, chief operating officer; Matt Kaminski, US editor-in-chief; Jamil Anderlini, Europe editor-in-chief; Cally Baute, executive vice president and general manager, consumer business; Nicolas Sennegon, Vice President and Managing Director of Politico Europe; Rachel Loeffler, executive vice president and general manager, business professional, USA; Meredith Jolivert, Vice President and General Counsel; and Brad Dayspring, vice president of marketing and communications.
Sheikholeslami said Politico Europe CEO Claire Boussagol will also be leaving the company.