ThinkIns: the engine of Tortoise journalism
Media associated with this campaign
Overview of this campaign
We observe three journalistic heresies at Tortoise:
to go slowly
to listen, not tell
to care what happens after the story
This entry is not for a single event but for our unique event concept, the ThinkIn. They’re live, completely unscripted conversations that bring Tortoise journalists and members together with invited guest speakers to explore a topic, in-depth and come to an informed point of view. Somewhere between an editorial conference and a live Letters page. “Industrial scale intellectual property theft”, one member once quipped.
There is just one rule: no questions. This is not a panel discussion. At a ThinkIn, we want to hear what members’ think, and everyone has equal say. So getting the right people in the room really matters - there’s no point being an echo chamber.
The format creates opportunity for civilised disagreement between people whose perspectives are at odds, sometimes dramatically, in wider public discourse: the boss of a multinational oil company with Extinction Rebellion activists; an outspoken gender-critical feminist writer and a transgender academic are two real examples. In the ThinkIn, we convene rooms that are rich in story ideas and tips, that challenge and deepen our editorial perspective on stories we’ve published, or are publishing.
We’ve covered topics from pornography, gambling and Love Island to vaccination, taxation and the future of the monarchy. What we’ve found is the room itself matters, too. “The Future of Men” ThinkIn in central Manhattan was markedly different from the same conversation in the Bronx. So as well as in our newsroom in London we do one ThinkIn a week outside - we’ve been to village halls, pubs, schools, care homes, places of worship, a refugee camp.
Results for this campaign
Tortoise ended 2019 with 28,881 paid-for members. We’ve welcomed 11,000 ThinkIn guests at 281 ThinkIns in 12 months. Just over 1 in 5 London-based members have attended at least once and thousands more have watched online. They’re a potent marketing mechanic, a powerful commercial proposition for partners but most importantly, the engine of our journalism.
A potent marketing mechanic:
60% of new members are referred by another member. Once somebody has been in a ThinkIn, they’re very likely to join. That’s why members can share their 10 complimentary ThinkIn tickets with friends and family. It’s a super-powered word-of-mouth recommendation device, baked into the product.
The engine of our journalism:
Around half of Tortoise’s stories have originated in ThinkIns. Sometimes, it’s about contacts, other times tips. Two Tortoise reporters are currently pursuing a landmark story about sexual abuse on campus that emerged in a ThinkIn.
We’ve commissioned large, open investigations, rooted in ThinkIns, that unpick popular misconceptions. One such live project is on the new rules for British politics, which takes us from Glasgow to Grimsby to Greater London. The goal is to create, with members, a blueprint for a new UK constitution.
ThinkIns also generate leads that become complete stories. In November 2018, we held a ThinkIn on the Labour Party and heard about a closed Facebook group in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales which was infuriating Labour activists. We followed up with old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting and discovered that ‘Merthyr Council Truths’, run by a computer repair technician who fell out with the council over parking, was the political power force in town. When Merthyr swung behind the Brexit Party at the European election, the BBC (who followed our story) reported the victory was built on the Facebook group Tortoise had discovered.