With the help of platforms, grants and donations, more fact-checking organizations are now for-profit

June 22, 2020
Category: Fact-Checking,IFCN

While major media outlets are slashing budgets and cutting their staffs, fact-checking organizations seem to be going in the opposite direction — adding employees, increasing their budgets and converting to for-profit businesses.

The annual State of Fact-Checkers survey conducted by the International Fact-Checking Network found that, for the first time, more than half (53%) of the responding fact-checking organizations are for-profit. That’s 5 percentage points above last year and 24 percentage points above the first survey, done in 2018.  The 80 fact-checking organizations that responded to the 2020 survey are all signatories to the IFCN’s Code of Principles.

Mark Stencel, co-director of the Duke Reporters’ Lab, sees at least two reasons for the results  in this year’s’ State of Fact-Checkers. He said the growing relationships between fact-checkers and social media platforms has contributed to the transition to the for-profit business model.

“It’s clear that the platforms have become big investors in fact-checking whether that’s been through direct grants to specific fact-checkers or to organizations like the IFCN to distribute,” he said.

Of the 80 organizations that responded, 43% said their main source of income was Facebook’s Third Party Fact-Checking Program. That’s just ahead of the 42% that reported most of their income comes from donations, memberships or grants. Facebook requires its fact-checking partners to be vetted and certified by the IFCN’s Code of Principles before applying. You can read about the whole process here.

In 2020, the IFCN distributed more than $1.2 million to 27 organizations through both the Fact-Checking Innovation Initiative and the Coronavirus Facts Grants.

In last year’s survey, only 36% of the organizations reported having a $100,000 plus budget. In this year’s survey, that jumped to 52%.

The second reason for the changes, says Stencel, is the  development of fact-checking in major news organizations.

“It’s hard work… and if one or two people can do it in a big newsroom with the backup of a big organization, that’s sometimes what allows it to happen,” Stencel said.

In the United States, for example, Reuters and USA Today have just joined the list of verified signatories of IFCN’s Code of Principles. Both submitted responses to this year’s survey.

Academic institutions that host fact-checking organizations ticked down again this year, falling from 4% to 1.3%. In the 2019 survey, three of the 75 fact-checking organizations were self-described as an “academic initiative.” This year, FactCheck.org based out of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania stands alone among IFCN’s verified signatories.

The third annual State of Fact-Checkers survey also shows that fact-checking teams have grown:  62.5% of the surveyed fact-checking organizations have a staff of five employees or more, up from 50% the year before.

You can read the full report here, as well as a copy of the 2019 report here, and the 2018 report here.

Harrison Mantas is a reporter for the International Fact-Checking Network covering fact-checking and misinformation. Reach him at hmantas@poynter.org or on Twitter at @HarrisonMantas