28 June 2019


Introducing the Tortoise Network

A different kind of newsroom needs many different voices

By Polly Curtis and Liz Moseley

There’s a magic that happens in a Tortoise ThinkIn when you see the eyes of the editor running the discussion widen as they learn a fact, hear an idea or someone’s personal experience that completely changes the way they were thinking about the subject being discussed.

These moments are what our ThinkIns are about. ThinkIns are the system of organised listening where we harness our members’ experiences to shape the stories we report. They are the engine of our journalism and the way that we, as an organisation, are working to democratise news.

Traditional news reporting is about organising facts against the clock in a way that means contradictions can sometimes be ironed out until they become over-simplified. But all of us who have lived through the turbulent recent period in history, know that life is much more complicated than that.

What would happen if we started with a question, then combined traditional reporting with an open conversation with our members to try to answer it? What if our newsroom was full of people – not just journalists – debating and discussing why, how, what next? What if journalists kept open minds, and actively sought out people who challenged their thinking and confounded expectations? What if we slowed down?

That’s what we’ve been finding out since we launched in April. Tortoise membership has now grown to nearly 8,000 people. Together, they’ve taken part in 138 ThinkIns in 25 towns and cities in six countries.

We’ve learned a huge amount already, but we must avoid becoming another echo chamber. To report on the world we are in, our newsroom and membership must be as diverse as the country we’re in.

Everyone needs a seat at the table. We need to break out of the bubble. And that won’t happen by itself. We need to go out of our way to connect with people who are often unseen and unheard by quality news media and those who are working for change on the front lines and in different communities.

So today we’re announcing the next phase in our evolution. From today, 3,500 new members join us via the Tortoise Network. It’s a new funding model for membership, that opens Tortoise journalism up to people who are hardest for us to reach, but whose voices we most need to hear.

We’re monitoring the demographic and attitudinal profile of our current membership to identify groups of people who are currently under-represented. Working with partners we call Connectors, including the National Citizen Service, Ark Schools, IntoUniversity, More United and Family Action, we’re inviting people from a diverse range of backgrounds to become members of Tortoise.

A separate group of partners, called Supporters, including Santander, Montfort, Edelman, Tulchan, Finsbury, Fora and our founding patrons, are funding those memberships.

We’re calling this inclusive membership. Our ambition is that for every new member of Tortoise we will recruit another member on a funded membership, to make sure that we are having the richest possible conversation in our ThinkIns. Through the Network, we will also be able to hold ThinkIns right across the country.

In every conversation we have, both in our newsroom and out on the road, our editors will be challenged again, exposed to new voices and new ideas from across the spectrum of society.

Be part of the Tortoise Network

We’re looking for individuals, businesses and foundations who would like to help us democratise news by expanding the Network further, either as a Supporter or Connector. If you’d like to know more about how you can take part, please write to Katie, one of our co-founders, at katie@tortoisemedia.com – or go to tortoisemedia.com/network. We’d love to hear from you.