In 2018, Tortoise successfully raised enough funds through their kickstarter campaign to launch their 'slowed down, wised up' style of news.
Three main components went into this pitch, being ‘Think In’ editorial discussions, a ‘slow news’ daily edition digital digest and a quarterly long-read book.
Business models and memberships featured as a core part of our last Newsrewired in November 2018, which touched on the importance of diversifying revenue streams and developing a tried and tested pitch to your audience.
Taken together, this is a strategy which attempts to cut through the noise of the news cycle. Rather than looking at what is happening in the news, it looks at what is driving it.
It is the former, the ‘Think Ins’, which was the primary focus of a podcast with Journalism.co.uk, where Tortoise co-founder Katie Vanneck-Smith explained the value of creating a face-to-face dialogue between members and journalist, and how it shapes the editorial and financial side of Tortoise.
"The lovely thing about Tortoise and the fact we’re a membership organisation is that the 'Think In' is both a brilliant editorial platform, but it’s also a brilliant commercial platform," said Vanneck-Smith.
"It builds a connection between the journalist and the member in a way that you can't get in a traditional arms-length relationship."
Editorially, Tortoise focuses on five major forces which shape the world: technology, longevity, finance, identity and natural resources. The team take a moment to reflect on these trends in editorial discussions with fixed themes or blank canvases.
Here, members and journalists can discuss freely their insights, worries and wisdoms, but more importantly how to report on them and how to keep the conversation going in future discussions.
One 'Think In' from January 2019 locked horns with the then-imminent Parliament vote surrounding the UK's Brexit deal. Vanneck Smith said that this brought about a knock-on discussion based on British identity, as well as a piece of editorial content as a direct response to a member's contribution.
"We were heckled by a member who said ‘it depends on the question’, so our journalist Chris Cook produced piece the following week which was called ‘the question of the question’,” she explained. "That directly came out of the open news 'Think In' and the conversation on Brexit."
Tortoise membership includes access to the sessions, but non-members can buy tickets for £25, which also ncludes two-weeks access to the daily digital edition.
"Everything I’ve learned over the past 20 years is that mixed models for funding journalism are better than relying on one revenue stream. Lets be clear: in our traditional world of print, most of us didn’t just have one revenue stream, and it is amazing we thought one revenue streams would work in digital," said Vanneck-Smith.
Although 'Think Ins' are ticketed, some editorial discussions held in unconventional settings and outside of London are free. This is part of a commitment to take the Tortoise sessions on the road every other week and reach out to the wider communities that have supported their mission, as one in four of their founding members are overseas.
“'Think Ins' are really at the heart of this new newsroom approach that Tortoise is looking to do, both enabling us to slow down but more importantly to open up. So they are critical to the open journalism, they are the start point of the way we start to think differently about how we can build a newsroom that our members can be a part of," she explained.
"It creates a better journalism business for two reasons. One is that we are challenged by different voices and perspectives and our point of view is more informed as a consequence.
“Two, we build a better, sustainable business for journalism, in that if people are vested and have an emotional connection to, and feel part of, the journalism we are producing the retention of members will be significantly higher than those that build a business on subscription, who sell products rather than ask people to be part of something.”
From micropayments to crowdfunding, we will be discussing new ways to finance journalism in the digital age at Newsrewired on 6 March at Reuters, London.