Articles about "PolitiFact"


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Creating new forms of journalism that put readers in charge

It’s been 20 years since the Internet began to disrupt journalism. It has turned our business upside down, but it’s also given us a new canvas to invent different ways of presenting information. It’s time to start reimagining the news story.

Last week, four of us gathered in a windowless conference room in New York to explore what we can do to nudge things along.

The participants were the creators of three projects that rely on new forms:

  • Laura and Chris Amico, the founders of Homicide Watch, the highly acclaimed reporting venture that tracks homicide victims and suspects in Washington, Chicago and Trenton, N.J.


All three projects use a structured approach to present content in different ways. The animated diagrams of Connected China show you the family and government relationships that determine who has clout in that country; the lists and maps of Homicide Watch show who has been killed and where; the PolitiFact report cards reveal which politicians have earned the most Pants on Fires.

Homicide Watch, Connected China and PolitiFact are known as structured journalism because the articles contain fields of information that can be sorted and tallied. They provide readers with many ways to explore the content, both through individual articles and the data the articles create. Structured journalism puts the reader in charge.

“It’s a way of reporting that builds a comprehensive reporter’s notebook and then opens that notebook up to the public,” said Laura Amico. “There is no ‘old news’ in structured journalism, there is cumulative news. It is reporting that increases in value over time.”

There are a few other ventures that are experimenting with similar new forms, such as Circa, the app that atomizes the news into digestible chunks. But by and large, story forms are stuck in the past. We want more news organizations to experiment with structured journalism.

We began our New York meeting by trying to understand why media companies have largely failed to take advantage of the incredible power of the Web and mobile devices. We identified four forces that have stymied innovation:

  • Content Management Systems. They are designed to convert old media into new media and they provide little flexibility to experiment with new journalistic forms.

  • Newsroom culture. The rhythm in most newsrooms is based on a well-established work flow that produces predictable content. It’s not easy to suggest a wholesale change.

  • Product managers on the business side. They’re accustomed to selling the old recipe and often seem perplexed by new approaches.

  • Editors/news directors. They’ve got other priorities — such as having to choose people for another round of layoffs — and often don’t have the resources for a new venture.

Chua said editors need to get beyond the idea that “what’s new is what’s valuable. Sometimes it is. But sometimes it’s accumulated information and knowledge that is valuable.”

We then turned to the need for evangelism. What can the four of us do to get more news organizations to try innovative story forms?

We agreed to host a mini-conference in September before the Online News Association meeting in Chicago. It will allow us to demonstrate the promise of new story forms for industry leaders and innovators.

In the meantime, we’ll be writing and speaking about the new forms and encouraging organizations to do more experimentation. We invite you to join in these conversations by sharing your projects, ideas and hopes. #structuredjournalism

Bill Adair, the creator of PolitiFact, is the Knight Chair for Computational Journalism at Duke University and an adjunct faculty member at Poynter. Read more

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How PolitiFact gets ready for ‘the Super Bowl for fact-checkers’

The president’s State of the Union address is “the Super Bowl for fact-checkers,” former PolitiFact honcho Bill Adair tells a video crew at his new employer, Duke University.

PolitiFact — which is owned by the Tampa Bay Times, which in turn is owned by Poynter — gets a copy of the speech a few minutes before the U.S. House of Representatives Sergeant at Arms shouts “Mr. Speaker.” Via instant message, PolitiFact editors assign reporters to specific sections of the speech.

The editors then gather in PolitiFact’s “Star Chamber” and hand out Truth-o-Meter ratings, Adair says.

Related: YouTube, news sites will livestream the State of the Union | The White House wants to be your second screen for State of the Union address Read more

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New PolitiFact service will fact-check pundits

PolitiFact

PolitiFact will launch a service called PunditFact that will be “dedicated to checking claims by pundits, columnists, bloggers and the hosts and guests of talk shows.”

Poynter — which owns the Tampa Bay Times that operates PolitiFact — is a partner on the project. The Ford Foundation and the Democracy Fund are funding it with seed money from Craigslist founder Craig Newmark’s group craigconnects.

Poynter will analyze “the reach and impact of PunditFact and will hold a conference to discuss the results,” the announcement says. Read more

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Magnifying Glass - Facts

Researchers find politicians may fear fact-checkers

In the months before the 2012 election, state legislators in nine states received letters from two political scientists.

“We are writing to let you know about an important research project,” the letters began.

It wasn’t just a letter letting them know about the project — the letters were a core piece of the research, as were the politicians themselves.

Some of the letters informed legislators that PolitiFact had set up shop in their state, and that the researchers were conducting work related to “how elected officials in your state are responding to the presence of this fact-checking organization during this campaign season.” It also told them that, “Politicians who lie put their reputations and careers at risk, but only when those lies are exposed.” Read more

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PolitiFact Ohio gives Rachel Maddow a ‘Pants on Fire!’

PolitiFact Ohio

Rachel Maddow’s claim that Ohio’s budget calls for a “mandatory vaginal probe at the insistence of the state” is not true, PolitiFact’s Ohio outfit says.

“Maddow was referring to a new requirement that women seeking abortions first receive ultrasounds to determine whether a fetal heartbeat is present,” PolitiFact and Plain Dealer reporter Henry J. Gomez writes. Gomez got his hands on the budget, which says “only that an examination shall be performed externally.”

“That puts Maddow’s ‘vaginal probe’ claim about as far as can be from the truth, into the realm of the ridiculous,” Gomez writes. Read more

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Study about PolitiFact — OK to call it a study?

PolitiFact Editor Bill Adair was careful to call a study that claimed his shop “rates Republicans as less trustworthy than Democrats” a “press release” when I asked him for comment about it last week.

“The authors of this press release seem to have counted up a small number of our Truth-O-Meter ratings over a few months, and then drew their own conclusions,” Adair wrote. (Poynter owns the Tampa Bay Times, which owns PolitiFact.) I asked the spokesperson for George Mason University’s Center for Media and Public Affairs for a copy of the full study, about which I had indeed received a press release. In return, CMPA spokesperson Kathryn Davis sent me the following tables: Read more

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Michele Bachmann

Fact-checkers, copy editors on why they’ll be affected by Michele Bachmann’s retirement

U.S. Rep Michele Bachmann announced early Wednesday that she would not seek her seat next year, an announcement that will land hard on two constituencies: Fact-checkers and copy editors.

“She was great to cover because she was consistently and unapologetically wrong,” Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler told Poynter in an email. “But others will fill the breach, I am sure!” In a post bidding her adieu, Kessler wrote that Bachmann’s absence “will leave the Capitol a much less interesting place to fact check.” Read more

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Study: PolitiFact finds Republicans ‘less trustworthy than Democrats’

Center for Media and Public Affairs

George Mason University’s Center for Media and Public Affairs studied 100 PolitiFact fact-checks during President Obama’s second term. The organization “rated Republican claims as false three times as often as Democratic claims,” a press release says.

PolitiFact rated 32% of Republican claims as “false” or “pants on fire,” compared to 11% of Democratic claims – a 3 to 1 margin. Conversely, Politifact rated 22% of Democratic claims as “entirely true” compared to 11% of Republican claims – a 2 to 1 margin.

A majority of Democratic statements (54%) were rated as mostly or entirely true, compared to only 18% of Republican statements. Conversely, a majority of Republican statements (52%) were rated as mostly or entirely false, compared to only 24% of Democratic statements.

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Is Truth-O-Meter the real issue in Maddow’s latest blast at PolitiFact?

The Tampa Bay Times’ fact-checking site PolitiFact has drawn another heated rebuke from MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow, who accuses it of “ruining fact checking” and being “truly terrible.”

But at the risk of looking like a homer — the Times signs my checks as its media critic — I think Maddow’s gripe with PolitiFact boils down to the same thing that’s rankled other critics: the site’s Truth-O-Meter rulings. (Additional disclaimer: Poynter owns the Tampa Bay Times.)

On Tuesday, Maddow took issue with PolitiFact ruling as “Half True” a statement from tennis legend Martina Navratilova that “in 29 states in this country you can still get fired for not just being gay but if your employer thinks you are gay.” That number is the amount of states with no statewide law banning employment discrimination for sexual orientation.

But PolitiFact noted that several factors work against making blanket statements based on a lack of state laws. Some government employees have protections against sexual-orientation discrimination even in those 29 states. Cities in states lacking such laws have passed their own legislation banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are two examples.) Some employers have union rules and written internal policies barring such discrimination. And some laws banning gender discrimination can also protect gay people, depending on how a case is argued.

But are such exceptions enough to make Navratilova’s statement “Half True”?

I’m betting that’s what bothered some who read the PolitiFact analysis. I would have given Navratilova’s words a rating of “Mostly True,” since a) PolitiFact didn’t seem to calculate how many people might be protected by these exceptions; and b) the exceptions seem like minor ones. As I see it, “Half True” overstates the case because it implies a substantial error or falsity.

The Truth-O-Meter, which assigns statements to six categories on a scale from “True” to “Pants on Fire” for out-and-out falsehoods, has been both PolitiFact’s most successful and most controversial element.

On the one hand, it provides a handy, quick method for branding PolitiFact, recognizing its rulings and communicating its decisions. Anyone looking to laud or blast a statement can use this shorthand; Daily Show host Jon Stewart even used his smartphone to read former GOP candidate Herman Cain a “Pants on Fire” ruling during the program’s visit to the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

But on the other hand, the Truth-O-Meter can provide an easy source of criticism. Maddow also blew up at PolitiFact in February 2012 when the site ruled “Mostly True” a claim by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio that “Americans are majority conservative,” citing a 2011 Gallup poll that found 40 percent of Americans identified as conservative, compared to 21 percent liberal and 35 percent moderate.

Again, this is ruling I would dispute, because 40 percent is a long way from 51 percent. I probably would have ruled it “Mostly False,” because the real number isn’t a majority, even though it is the largest category of the three measured by the poll. (After taking a lot of criticism, PolitiFact eventually changed its ruling to “Half True.”)

PolitiFact’s explanations of its rulings are an effort to go beyond the literal truth of a fact or set of facts to judge the overall impact of a statement. In politics, it is easy to lay out three true statements and reach a false conclusion; the subjective Truth-o-Meter rulings are a way of addressing this issue. And by laying out the facts it weighed in reaching a ruling, PolitiFact lets the reader make his or her own decision. As long as the facts PolitiFact presents in its arguments are true, criticism that the site is “ruining fact-checking” overlooks much of what it does.

Some critics have asked whether PolitiFact has set out to tweak liberal sensibilities with some of its rulings, perhaps offering a harsher Truth-O-Meter setting to look even-handed in political squabbles. People who work on the site insist that isn’t happening, but readers can look over PolitiFact’s rulings and decide for themselves.

That’s an important difference between PolitiFact and Maddow’s latest critique of it. Even while lambasting PolitiFact for a supposed error, Maddow never fairly explained the facts assembled by the site to challenge Navratilova’s statement, dismissing them as “unrelated information.” And that makes it tougher for Maddow’s viewers to judge if her analysis was fair.

So in this case, it seems, both sides might have a little to learn about fair arguments and rulings. Read more

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Bill Adair: Fact-checking ‘is a good investment’

CJR

Bill Adair says in an interview with Brendan Nyhan for Columbia Journalism Review that while he is leaving newspapers for academia, the lessons he learned from founding PolitiFact are worth sharing with all of journalism. Fact-checking, he said, is needed more than ever.

“The challenge is that news organizations are so strapped that they are looking for things to cut, not things to add such as factchecking,” he said. “I’m hopeful they’ll realize that factchecking is a good investment — and one that readers love.”

Verifying statements validates the role of journalists as guardians against misinformation, Adair said, a job that seems to have fallen by the wayside. Read more

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