Poynter Big Ideas: PolitiFact

Scott MontgomeryThe Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact is a dynamite project of the St. Petersburg Times that political junkies like me love. And here’s Scott Montgomery, one of its editors! If you don’t know PolitiFact.com already, check it out. Here are some of the bullet points from Scott’s presentation:

• Every day, reporters and researchers from the Times examine statements by members of Congress, the president, cabinet secretaries, lobbyists, people who testify before Congress and anyone else who speaks up in Washington. We research their statements and then rate the accuracy on our Truth-O-Meter – True, Mostly True, Half True, Barely True and False. The most ridiculous falsehoods get our lowest rating, Pants on Fire.

• The first thing we did – we ditched fake balance. No need for comments about why someone got something wrong – just the facts.

• We used our news judgement: We didn’t feel compelled to fact check every Rotary Club speech by every candidate. We went after things that we didn’t know the answers to, but we knew they were interesting and that illuminated public policy issues.

• It’s just as valuable to say what’s true as what’s false. We are not a gotcha site, not just trying to trash everybody.

• We’re not afraid to waste good reporting. If there wasn’t enough information to reach a conclusion, we didn’t publish it. We are not going to fake it, not going to make a call on something when we don’t have an answer.

• Most important: We make the call, rating the statement as true, false, barely true, pants on fire. The website shows the statement, and the ruling on our snazzy little graphic Truth-O-Meter. Click on the judgement, and go to a page with documentation. We list all of our sources and provide links to every document, creating a strong sense of transparency and credibility.

• Now we have built the Obameter. We have built a database with every one of the president’s promises. Even if we didn’t check up on all those things all the time – as a primary document of the Obama presidency, it’s an amazing thing.

• Staffing and platform: Two full-time reporters plus Bill Adair (Washington bureau chief) and Scott Montgomery (St. Petersburg Times) and a part-time reporter. It’s built on Janga, which our IT department had never worked with.

• On an average day now, the Truth-O-Meter has 30-40,000 unique visitors. We’ve seen it in the million range, so it doesn’t seem as good.

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