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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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David Goldman / AP

The Athletic, a locally-focused, subscription-supported sports publication, announced its expansion into nationwide coverage today with the splashy hires of Stewart Mandel for college football and Seth Davis for college basketball.

What makes it different: The Athletic charges $5.99 a month (or $40 for a full year) to access its content, allowing it to provide a clean ad-free presentation to readers. From Mandel: "The Athletic's subscriber model allows us to focus entirely on high-quality written content. NO ads, NO auto-play videos, NO clickbait."

Why it matters: An AP NORC Center and American Press Institute study earlier this year found that 53% of people are willing to pay for news that suits their interests and fosters a good user experience. Spikes in subscriptions and investments in subscription products across diverse, often-specialized publications like The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The New York Times' cooking section and The Information prove that trend. By investing in a clean user experience and backing it up with quality niche content, The Athletic is hoping to latch onto the trend.

The pedigree: The Athletic came out of prestigious tech incubator Y Combinator last year after its founders saw a lack of focused coverage and analysis in local sports markets — eventually expanding to four cities: Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, and Cleveland. But the Mandel and Davis hires clearly showcase a bigger vision for the company's eventual reach.

How it's going: Per Bloomberg, the company needs between 8,000 and 12,000 subscribers in a city to become profitable. It took 8 months from its mid-2016 Chicago launch to hit 1,000 subscribers, but it grabbed 10,000 subscribers with ease in hockey-crazy Toronto — the only city where it's currently profitable. The rash of new hires comes from a $5.4 million funding round that closed last week.

Changing landscape: Mandel was laid off by Fox Sports last month while Davis was laid off by Sports Illustrated earlier this year — ESPN also notably laid off a number of big name journalists in 2017.

Another trend: These layoffs are happening as a result of both consolidation within the sports media ecosystem and a pivot to video-focused content, which has created an opportunity for smaller, editorially-focused sites to enter the ecosystem. The goal? Often, it's being snapped up by a VC firm or — perhaps ironically, given The Athletic's poaching of laid-off writers — a legacy media outlet looking to connect with a base of intelligent, information-hungry consumers. Think: Turner's 2012 purchase of Bleacher Report and Vox Media's commercial relationship with Bill Simmons' The Ringer that was announced earlier this year.

Go deeper

Biden explains justification for Syria strike in letter to Congress

Photo: Chris Kleponis/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden told congressional leadership in a letter Saturday that this week's airstrike against facilities in Syria linked to Iranian-backed militia groups was consistent with the U.S. right to self-defense.

Why it matters: Some Democrats, including Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), have criticized the Biden administration for the strike and demanded a briefing.

10 hours ago - Health

FDA authorizes Johnson & Johnson's one-shot COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

Photo: Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday issued an emergency use authorization for Johnson & Johnson's one-shot coronavirus vaccine.

Why it matters: The authorization of a third coronavirus vaccine in the U.S. will help speed up the vaccine rollout across the country, especially since the J&J shot only requires one dose as opposed to Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech's two-shot vaccines.

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

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