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As a non-profit organisation, Teyit is funded by the European Commission, government agencies, NGOs as well as reader donations. The bulk of its revenue comes from its work as a partner of Facebook’s third-party fact-checking programme.
Teyit is one of the few independent media organisations doing this kind of verification work in the country. Estimates suggest pro-government outlets represent 90% of Turkey’s newspaper circulation.
In October 2019, they began showing short videos on Istanbul’s public transportation, reaching 4 million people each day. Since early 2020, they’ve been using nearly 8,000 screens across the city to spread factual information about the pandemic.
How did Teyit handle the COVID-19 crisis?
Teyit began reporting on the virus in early February 2020, over a month before the pandemic hit Turkey on March 11. The team understood early on that the virus would dominate news coverage for the year. On 5 February, they published a YouTube video called 10 myths of coronavirus. It went viral and has been viewed over 368,000 times to date.
At the beginning of April, Habertürk, one of Turkey’s three biggest news channels, agreed to run Teyit’s one-minute video explainers for free. The short clips debunk the most widely circulated myths about the outbreak and highlight practical fact-checking tips. Seven videos are produced each week, each of which is broadcasted several times a day. This partnership allows Teyit to reach a significant TV audience that may be more vulnerable to misinformation.
On March 5, Teyit launched a COVID-19 Post newsletter with tips and information about mental health and things to do during the lockdown. Every Sunday, a different Teyit editor or writer produces the newsletter based on their area of expertise. Meanwhile, the Tuesday and Friday issues are written by a dedicated editor. At the start, Teyit sent it out twice a week, but after securing funding from 50 supporters, they decided to send it three times a week. Over the past two months, the newsletter has grown from 0 to 12,000 subscribers and has an open rate of 36.7%.
Teyit’s audience responded to the COVID-19 Post newsletter with many encouraging messages, offering voluntary help based on their skills. Some offered to help with their investigations while others began editing pieces, producing graphics and creating audio clips for Teyit’s mini-docs and fact-checking shows. They even recorded songs from their homes to boost the team’s mood.
Every week, one of Teyit’s editors organises a webinar over Zoom for COVID-19 Post newsletter subscribers. They cover everything from fact-checking tips to media consumption habits during the lockdown to digital security. So far, they’ve organised six webinars which almost 500 people have attended. The webinars aim to help editors build a relationship with COVID-19 Post newsletter subscribers and to turn them into loyal members.
In December 2019, they ran a successful community crowdsourced campaign to fund the fact-checking of an anti-vaccination bestseller book filled with misinformation. The campaign generated financial contributions from 234 readers. This experience helped them to understand how best to engage directly with their community during COVID-19.
Teyit has also seen significant social media growth as a result of their native storytelling strategies. In March, Teyit’s Twitter following jumped by almost 20%. While the growth slowed down in April, the numbers were still significantly higher than in previous months.
In March 2020, Teyit reached a record-high for page views since its launch. Compared to February 2020, page views were up 246%, nearing one million. They also received more financial contributions from readers in the past month than in the past three-and-a-half years.
How has COVID-19 changed the future of Teyit?
In June 2020, Teyit will launch a new community-powered fact-checking platform with gamification features to train members in fact-checking and investigations. This will allow users to contribute to investigations and be a part of the fact-checking and investigative experience. Such a platform will also allow Teyit to ramp up the number of fact-checks and investigations to make more of an impact.
Alongside the new community platform, Teyit will launch two membership programmes:
The first will be a free programme called the “Open Office”. Readers that sign up will be able to earn points by watching videos, reading articles and taking quizzes to learn more about the fact-checking tools and methods Teyit uses. As they make progress with the online training, users will collect points, join Teyit’s investigations and eventually become “Sherlock” members.
The second membership programme is called “Curiosity Club” and is for paying members. Editors will produce exclusive newsletters and events for these members. “Sherlock” members will also be able to join for free.
Given the success of the mini-video explainers on Istanbul’s public transportation, Teyit is now planning to expand this project — named “all roads lead to truth” — to other big cities, including Ankara, İzmir, and Bursa.
Teyit believes capturing Turkish television viewers has never been more important in their fight against misinformation. The team plans to extend the successful partnership with Habertürk into a longer-form fact-checking programme after the pandemic.
What have they learned?
“As a team of young journalists, fact-checkers, developers, filmmakers and graphic artists, we’re really dedicated to transforming the news media landscape in Turkey. Ownership structures and high-level reliance on advertising as the main source of revenue have historically made Turkish-language media vulnerable to any kind of interference from the political class. We want to build an independent and sustainable model where we feel responsible only for our readers. So this is only possible if a large enough audience supports our mission and vision. From our COVID-19 experience, we learned that when we go to our readers with good pitches, they not only listen but also respond, they show interest in building a much better journalistic model with us, they want to be part of this. So going forward, we’ll build upon this momentum.”