External fact-checking is growing in general and in Latin America in particular, but paying for this work remains a key concern. Fact-checkers in the region, which span commercial media outlets and nonprofit organizations, have taken on different approaches to fundraising.
Lupa, from Brazil, is among the former. Founded as a private company in February 2016, it is primarily funded by João Moreira Salles, the founder of Piauí magazine. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Colombiacheck, a nonprofit project of the investigative reporters’ collective Consejo de Redacción, receives the totality of its current funding from the Open Society Foundations.
Relying on major donors offers the advantage of providing some predictability over the years, according to Adriana Amado, a professor and researcher on public communications and media at the National University of La Matanza in Argentina.
However, the project’s survival depends on continued interest on the part of the donor, Amado adds. If the funding drops, the project is in jeopardy.
While Lupa and Colombiacheck set out with a very different funding model, the line blurs in practice. For one, both organizations aim to sell their content in order to generate regular income. Lupa has deals with newspapers (Folha de S. Paulo), magazines (Época) and TV (GloboNews).
Other fact-checkers, such as Argentina’s Chequeado (where I work), pursue mixed funding strategies. It relies on a diversified business model that includes support from international cooperation actors, individual donors, companies and foundations as well as paid services such as selling content to other media outlets, workshops and events.
In this group we can also find Brazil's Aos Fatos, working as a journalistic startup funded mainly by its readers. In 2015, 80 percent of its budget came from its first crowdfunding campaign. At the same time, it receives support from Open Knowledge Brazil and sells articles and content to other media organizations.
In both cases, the community of readers comes aboard, too. By identifying themselves with the mission and values of fact-checking, readers literally buy into the project. Small donors are not only a source of income but can also become regular contributors to the site.
Nevertheless, achieving a wide base of multiple small donors in order to sustain the project is hard work, said Alejandro Rost, a professor and researcher in print and digital journalism at the National University of Comahue in Argentina. This task takes a full-time team.
The crowdfunding model is difficult to apply throughout Latin American societies, since a culture of accessing news for free prevails, Rost says. Despite this, he says, fact-checking initiatives are more alluring than conventional media for small donors because they propose a different approach to journalism.
Fact-checking organizations in the region have not thoroughly explored a business model based on the sale of services, but many are trying.
Amado and Rost agree this strategy has potential: "You attain predictability, since there is an activity of your own that generates regular income," Amado said. You get a modicum of financial independence because you rely only on your own work, Rost said.
Italy’s Pagella Politica and PolitiFact in the United States embrace this model and sell their services. The former offers services to other media outlets and fact-checking workshops for universities. PolitiFact has established a franchise model at the state level and a national partnership with NBC News. The clients of these fact-checkers resort to specialists and pay for the experience and reputation they bring to the table.
Fact-checking initiatives throughout Latin America face the challenge of achieving long-term sustainability; a diversified funding model seems the likeliest path to reach that objective.