Bill Adair will leave PolitiFact

Tampa Bay Times

He’ll become the Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University, a memo sent to Tampa Bay Times staffers Thursday says. Adair is also the Tampa Bay Times’ Washington Bureau Chief; Alex Leary will take over that job.

Adair “will remain a consultant and contributing editor at PolitiFact, which has not yet named a new editor,” Eric Deggans reports.

Poynter owns the Tampa Bay Times.

Memo follows:

For more than two generations, the Tampa Bay Times has been Florida’s journalistic leader in the coverage of public policy and politics.

From that rich tradition grew a young reporter who understood that the most important value in our efforts is that democracy works only if its participants understand the issues and are not intimidated by the information.

That reporter was Bill Adair, whose vision built PolitiFact and put the Times at the epicenter of the fact-check journalism movement that continues to reshape national political dialogue.

I’m greatly saddened to announce that after 24 years with the Times, Bill is leaving us to become the Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University. It is one of 25 Knight Chairs endowed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The Knight Chair at Duke will allow Bill to teach about media and politics and explore new forms of journalism. He starts in July.

Bill worked his way up through the ranks, a high energy reporter with unending yet not jaded curiosity. Always in a detective’s hunt for answers, Bill grabbed stories and worked beats that others found too complicated or were unwilling to try because they couldn’t see the certain payoff.

Along the way Bill became a nationally recognized expert on aviation and the airline industry. He investigated and then wrote a narrative series for the Times about the crash of USAir Flight 427, which killed 131 near Pittsburgh. The series (which he later used as the basis for a book) was typical of Bill’s “black box” approach to journalism. Find the cause; find out what really happened.

Bill then moved to our Washington bureau and later became bureau chief.

Bill has always been an early adopter, a passionate newsroom advocate for technology and new reporting tools. When it comes to trying new things, Bill is fearless.

Which brings us to PolitiFact.

Imagine in the celebrity-driven world of Washington journalism — where flying around with the president and national leaders in search of status and TV exposure is the coin of the realm — a bureau chief says to his editor: Let’s skip all that.

That’s what happened the day Bill flew down in 2007 and proposed that he give up his traditional role in order to build a fact-checking operation more accessible and robust than any to come before it. We loved Bill’s vision for the “Truth-O-Meter” and committed unprecedented resource to developing a marvelous combination of innovative digital presentation and old-school news reporting. Two years later, PolitiFact was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

Today the Times has PolitiFact partnerships in 10 newsrooms across the country and Bill has built relationships with media and Web developers to create apps and new ventures that expand our audience and solidify our brand.

In the coming months, PolitiFact will be growing even more. PolitiFact Australia is on the way and we are seeking funding to expand fact-checking in both media and political circles.

That means we have a lot of work ahead to determine the best way to lead PolitiFact. Fortunately, we have an extraordinary team in Washington and in Florida who produce this important and popular journalism.

Bill’s last official day at the Times will be June 14. But the good news is that Bill will remain an important ally and consultant as a contributing editor at PolitiFact.

I’ll close with a few words from Bill.

“I have found Times editors have courage. There’s no other newspaper in America that would have made the sustained commitment to PolitiFact that you have made. Now, I’m ready to move on to another great job in American journalism. The Times is a special place and I treasure the opportunities I’ve had. Thanks for a wonderful 24 years.”

We congratulate Bill as he and his family embark on this next chapter of their lives.

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