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January 26, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 10:57am

Exclusive: Tortoise raises £10m from investors to expand audio, events and membership

By Andrew Kersley

“Slow news” start-up Tortoise has secured £10m of new funding to invest in audio journalism, events and growing its membership revenue.

The new investment is nearly double the £5.5m start-up cash Tortoise declared in its first published accounts in December 2018.

In its latest published accounts, for the year to December 2020, Tortoise recorded a total loss to date of £8.5m compared to a loss to date of £5.4m in 2019.

Founded in 2018 by former Times editor and BBC director of news James Harding, Tortoise launched with a promise to deliver “open journalism” and a “new type of newsroom”.

The largest investor in the series A funding deal was investment management company Lansdowne Partners. It will now become a significant shareholder in Tortoise alongside Thomson Reuters chair David Thomson’s investment firm Woodbridge, one of the largest investors in the group’s initial seed round in 2018.

Harding said: “We count ourselves lucky to have a group of investors willing to back a different kind of newsroom – one that can take the time to investigate unreported stories, tries to make sense of what’s driving the news and listens out for different points of view.

“With their backing, we hope to keep on growing and making the case for slow, open journalism.”

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Tortoise was initially launched with the help of crowdfunding of £710,000 (making it one of the most successful crowdfunding journalist projects ever according to Press Gazette research). But most of the Tortoise Media launch funding came from investors.

It is intended that the newest funding round will help the organisation grow its paid individual and professional membership, including a renewed focus on events to help build up that membership base.

Press Gazette understands the outlet has grown its paid membership to 55,000 since its full launch in 2019, marking a 5,000 increase in paid membership since October last year.

Membership prices range from £50 to £450 with free deals for students.

Tortoise co-founder Katie Vanneck-Smith said: “Our model is different – it is built on membership.

“This new round of investment will help us accelerate growth in personal memberships, professional networks and the Tortoise Community Network – all of which make Tortoise a place where people come together to understand things better together.”

Tortoise is also planning to use the funding to put more focus on its audio journalism. Press Gazette understands the audience for its podcasts reached almost 3m monthly downloads in December.

Sweet Bobby, a deep dive investigation into “one of the world’s most sophisticated catfishers”, reached the number one spot on Apple podcasts in the UK and US in December.

Some 37,000 people have attended Tortoise ThinkIns, the outlet’s open weekly news meetings that can be attended by members of the public, since the start of the pandemic.

The organisation currently employs roughly 50 people and has plans to increase the number following the new funding round.

Press Gazette understands that despite being the largest investor in the £10m series A round Landsdowne Partners will not be taking a controlling stake in the business.

Harding previously stated that the pandemic had “kickstarted” Tortoise as the group was forced to shift its ThinkIns fully online allowing it to engage a more global audience.

The outlet has now also moved increasingly into the events space and alongside more ThinkIns and editorial events, plans to host Kite, its first “ideas and music festival”, in Oxford in June.

FT-backed start-up Sifted raised £4m in funding late last year thanks to support from investment firm ScaleUp Capital, which became the company’s largest shareholder after taking a 25% stake Sifted.

Picture: Tortoise Media

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