‘Teamwork is a way to keep fact-checkers accountable’ —  and other wisdom from PolitiFact’s editor

August 22, 2019
Category: Fact-Checking

“The best fact-checking is a team effort.” This is the short — and straight to the point — message Angie Drobnic Holan wants to share with the fact-checking community this Thursday when PolitiFact turns 12 years old.

Holan woke up wanting to celebrate the anniversary by emphasizing the role her team plays in one of the most important fact-checking platforms in the world. And Holan has been there since Day One. She said her staff is the most valuable asset.  

“A case in point is PolitiFact’s recent fact-checking of the Democratic debates,” she said. “With more than 20 candidates on stage over two nights for each debate, PolitiFact’s entire team worked together to produce next-day reports.” 

The organization also used reporters from its state-based affiliates. To make sure all the claims heard that night could be verified, Holan needed support from fact-checkers at the Austin American-Stateman (PolitiFact Texas) and Sacramento’s Capital Public Radio (PolitiFact California). Kaiser Health News participated, too, rounding out the coverage by reporting on health care. 

“The team effort is crucial for keeping standards high,” said Holan. “Even the best of us tend to react emotionally before our reasoning and rationality can kick in. Thanks to our team processes, we can hash out tricky issues together and hold each other accountable.”

Holan was a news librarian in the Tampa Bay Times newsroom in 2007 when PolitiFact’s founding editor, Bill Adair, recruited her to the not-yet-launched fact-checking team. 

Holan was one of the site’s original reporters. In fact-checking the 2008 U.S presidential election, she and her colleagues won a Pulitzer Prize. Holan also fact-checked the drafting and passage of the Affordable Care Act, the landmark 2009 health care law. 

Nowadays, PolitiFact’s editor says that a team-based approach has been the key to PolitiFact’s success. 

“It takes time to fact-check thoroughly and get to the bottom of tough issues, so reporters often team up for complicated fact-checks, or on big nights like presidential debates. To determine PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter ratings, three editors convene to read fact-checks, discuss them and then vote on the final rating,” she said.

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  • **“The team effort is crucial for keeping standards high,” said Holan. “Even the best of us tend to react emotionally before our reasoning and rationality can kick in. Thanks to our team processes, we can hash out tricky issues together and hold each other accountable.”**

    Does PolitiFact use any metrics at all to track the state of its standards? If not, how would Holan, as a matter of fact, know that the standards have stayed high? Because PolitiFact wins a Pulitzer every year?

    It’s just words, right?

    But maybe she’s onto something that I pointed out last year at Zebra Fact Check? We do have evidence that politically polarized teams produce better content than do teams made up of political moderates.

    Of course I’ll believe in politically polarized teams at PolitiFact when I see any evidence of it.