Interview: FT’s Experimental ‘Startup’ Tilts At Emerging Markets

If you spun off a dozen staff from your news publication to re-think the future of niche business news online, what would it look like? In The Financial Times‘ case, it’s FT Tilt, a new site launching Monday, aiming to go deeper and be nimbler than its elder counterparts.

“The idea is to learn from Alphaville about what you can do online in a fast, conversational style of journalism – a real fast mix of news and analysis,” editor-in-chief Paul Murphy, the former Alphaville editor, tells paidContent:UK, speaking about the popular FT blog and live analysis section that is a world away from the conventional news-story format.

Headquartered in New York, Murphy has eight writers in a 12-strong team, led by managing director Tom Brammar. The separation from the FT‘s London home, and from any legacy print product, was surely deliberate…

“It can be tricky finding room to innovate,” Murphy says. “You need to have a platform to test things. We wanted to create a startup mentality within the overall FT.

“With Alphaville, we were given a lot of operational and editorial autonomy, which allowed it to very quickly develop its own voice. That’s important with Tilt, too – we are trying to develop new business models here. It comes down to having a clean, technological sheet to play with.”

Tilt is the FT‘s seventh professional-niche spin-off and Murphy aims to sell access to its journalism to professionals on a “high-end” enterprise basis – typical for such services, prices aren’t disclosed, but are in the “thousands”, not “hundreds”, of dollars.

Membership of Tilt’s “Populi” community section, which Murphy hopes will be as busy as Alphaville’s own, will be free, but “subject to status” – aspiring members must apply and must “demonstrate their professional interest in the emerging world”, according to the site.

Papers like the FT already cover emerging-markets business. But Murphy wants to go deeper: “We have to be respectful of how well informed and intelligent our readers are.

“We’re going after a very, very professional audience who know their stuff. We have to match that in terms of the quality and depth and granularity of our coverage. These are not people who want general stories about ‘The Rise Of China‘ or something similar.

“We did quite a lot of research in to this – feedback was that this audience want companies and markets in these fast-growing regions covered to a similar depth that we cover companies and markets in the west. That isn’t really happening at the moment. It comes down to resources – most papers have cut back on international staff quite dramatically in the last decade.

“Western business media generally is very fixated with London and New York – an M&A deal worth $2 billion gets on to the front page and yet a deal in India or Dubai that’s $20 billion ends up on page 136, below the fold and restricted to 100 words. The news agenda is out of sync with the general economy and business.”

Tilt has opened a Sao Paulo bureau to cover Latin America, plus bureaux in Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong and London, from where it will cover eastern Europe, Russia and Africa.

The separation from the FT itself is marked, but no more than its other existing sub-industry-specific sites and may be a case study in how media organisations could pull an innovative, online-native enterprise out of its legacy business – by sheltering it from the past.

“We hope it doesn’t really look like a typical news site,” Murphy says. “It’s very targeted at a professional audience, who don’t sit back and read things leisurely – they lean forward and consume information very quickly. We want them to do the editing themselves.” is still doing its own emerging-markets coverage, having launched a portal called BeyondBrics and will add to its China Confidential newsletter with Confidentials in other markets. “We do hope that, in due course, some of the things we learn can be transferred back to,” Murphy says.

Those elite community members will comprise sector analysts and commentators. “They can publish their own articles. We give them the tools and the opportunity to republish some of their research,” Murphy says. Why would they give it away? “The upside for them is their being read by a professional, high-grade audience who have similar interests.”

Membership is restricted because “the professional business audience feels more comfortable in an online environment that’s not on the open web. Banks and brokerages are happier about sharing their research in an environment like that than being on Google.”

Functionally, Tilt looks stark and spartan in black and white, at odds with the idea its content has character. Murphy says the colour scheme could change to match the branding of clients like large banks, who he hopes may give site memberships to their premium customers in deals with Tilt.

The site also lets readers create their own navigation structure. “A few years back, personalisation of news was all the rage,” Murphy says. “But, as far as I can see, that never really happened, because the technology was never easy to use.

“The solution we came up with was to treat news in the same way that online retailers are developing – Tilt is very much like going through a shopping site where you’re able, on the left-hand-side, to say what you’re after.