Tortoise was set up to tell the stories that weren’t being told anywhere else, the news that is brought to us by you – our members. In that respect, this week’s Open News meeting was one to cherish
This week, we had one of those happy moments when it worked. When the idea we had when we started Tortoise – the idea of an open newsroom, where the ThinkIn served as a system of organised listening that directly informs our journalism and sources our stories – simply happened. When the system of community networks that Katie Vanneck-Smith, my co-founder, came up with to ensure that Tortoise didn’t turn into an old, elite metro echo chamber, showed that it really could make us think differently.
Because we’ve been experimenting with different forms for our Open News meetings. Last week, you may have noticed we were on Twitter Spaces every morning at 8.30. And for anyone who’s worked with me before, you’ll appreciate the irony: I would always be that person who would be, well, really defensive about news conference and not letting others in; but I’ve come to love how much you can learn about the randomness of who joins and not just the details that we pick up on stories, but the ones that seem to have passed us by, and, of course, the mood of the room, albeit in this case, a virtual, digital one.
At our Open News meeting on Tuesday this week, we – by which I mean my colleagues Dave Taylor, Gurjinder Dhaliwal and Phoebe Davis – well we invited along Jude Habib and some of the people that she’s been working with at Sound Delivery, the charity that she runs to encourage people to tell their stories of social injustice and progress.
As ever, we’d come to our Open News meeting with our own newslist. And as you may know, we’re working on a campaign on global vaccinations called the Arms Race; so we planned to talk about that, and we also had other stories that we were, like every other newsroom, thinking about. We were raking over the coals of Matt Hancock’s resignation: how did the CCTV camera get to be there? Had the the Sun paid for the footage, if so, how much, who signed it off? What about other private lives in public office, how much has changed, harking back to the 1990s and Back to Basics, in the standards expected of both the press and politicians in the age of Boris Johnson’s premiership? And what about Britney Spears’ conservatorship, how can we make sense of that?
We had, as I suppose I’m saying, a newslist. But we didn’t, in the end, talk about any of that at all.
I’m James Harding, I’m the editor and co-founder of Tortoise, and in this week’s Editor’s Voicemail I wanted to talk about what turned out to be a short, sharp masterclass in hearing new stories and understanding why the public feels that the news media all too often seem to be circling the same subjects and missing so much along the way.
For example, Craig Jones joined us. He set up the campaign organisation Fighting With Pride, and he joined to tell us about an entirely overlooked modern scandal: the “gay ban” on the Armed Forces was only lifted in January 2000; but for decades before then, LGBT+ service personnel were dismissed or forced from their jobs serving their country. Their stories are forgotten, their cases for recognition and for compensation ignored.
We were joined too by Nasar Iqbal who runs Black Country Innovate, an organisation in Walsall that seeks to give voice to the problem of everyday racist hate crime. So everyday, in fact, that it seems regular acts of hate speech and intimidation, go unreported and, as a result, not acted upon, but treated instead as a fact of life.
Coventry may be Europe’s city of culture, but, to hear from Chloe Deakin, there was a gang rivalry that again is going on largely unseen, underreported, and it’s vivid – vivid to young people who see the videos and the violence on Snapchat, but being Snapchat, those images quickly disappear.
Jazz Moreton, an artist, had a stroke at the age of 13 and she told us about her effort to re-learn how to speak had prompted her to think more seriously about the voices we hear and those that we don’t. She’s just been chosen as a BBC New Creative and the piece she’s done for the BBC is itself an exceptional act of self-expression about the issue of self-expression.
These weren’t all the stories we heard. And they didn’t just come from the group that came with Jude from Sound Delivery. Andrew Brown mentioned something that, in fact through other sources we had been hearing too. He suggested we should follow up on QAnon as it seems, and my colleague Ceri Thomas confirmed, that it’s a moment that’s winning many, many more women followers – and that’s not an accident, it’s a strategy.
If you want to go back and hear any of this, you can watch or listen to Tuesday’s ThinkIn on catch up on the Tortoise website or in the Tortoise app.
But I suppose the point I’m trying to make is this. The truth is that, perhaps like many other places of work, people are tired at Tortoise. It’s been a long year, a strange one and we’ve had a lot of screen time. Sometimes it feels as though we’re sniffing around all the same old stories. And then on Tuesday, thanks to Sound Delivery, I was reminded that you don’t always need to go ferreting around for new ideas; you can sometimes just open the doors to the newsroom and ask them to walk right in. Thank you, Jude.