We will initially focus our efforts on the New York area but, if we are successful, we plan on expanding our coverage area to include the beginnings of the presidential race in 2015 while still maintaining a primary focus on local politicians and issues.
The election was an interesting one and while there was some factchecking work done by The New York Times and other news organizations, there definitely wasn’t enough. As you know, we were running our pilot program during the election and there were times where I wanted to just throw the site up and start publishing when I saw inaccurate or misleading claims being repeated over and over again. But it was important for us to develop and refine our editorial processes and to make sure that we are hitting on all cylinders when we launch next year.
When we do start operating next year, we hope to become not just a source for voters but a resource for other journalists as well, who often don’t have the time to do this sort work in the midst of covering the daily grind of a campaign.
Whenever there’s a race for a high profile office, factchecking has a role to play regardless of what the polls say. Candidates for office, even those headed to a big victory, need to know that the claims they make may be factchecked—not just while they are running for office, but while they are in office as well.
You mentioned the time and resource constraints facing traditional journalists who encounter questionable claims. Can you tell us more about your background as a journalist—how you came to factchecking, and how your experience as a reporter in the New York/New Jersey area informs your work for TruePolitics?
Time is always a factor in reporting, especially as newspapers continue to decline and are forced to cut staff to survive. The remaining editorial staff are faced with producing more and more copy, often on tight deadlines, which doesn’t leave much space to spend a day factchecking a political advertisement. And of course, there is also the issue of potential blowback if a reporter covering a campaign calls out a candidate for making an inaccurate claim. The reporter has to consider the reaction of the campaign to such a move —will they get frozen out? That’s not something a beat reporter can afford. Our operation will have no such concerns. We’re not interested in maintaining “access” to the candidate or the campaign. That’s not our job.
As for my past, I spent more than a decade as a newspaper reporter after graduating from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1999. I spent a little over six years at the The Record in North Jersey and then, beginning in 2006, another six years as a member of the investigative reporting team at the New York Daily News. The investigative work I’ve done in the past has certainly prepared me for the careful research necessary to properly factcheck claims. The data analysis skills I’ve developed over the years will also come in handy.
Early in 2013, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to two gentlemen, Fergus Reid (recently retired chairman of the JP Morgan Mutual Fund Board) and Carl Frischling (senior partner at Kramer Levin, a well-known law firm in New York), who were convinced that New York needed an outfit like TruePolitics. After some discussions, Fergus and Carl brought me onboard to start organizing this effort. (I’m also currently working as a researcher at the City University of New York and teaching at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism—both on a part-time basis).
I’ve been lucky enough to hire two outstanding veteran New York journalists in Patrice O’Shaughnessy and Robert Gearty to fill out our editorial team. They each have more than 30 years of experience in New York. In my opinion, that kind of institutional knowledge of New York issues and politics is invaluable in this kind of an operation. There is no substitute for experience.
How do you plan to attract and sustain interest in factchecks of lower-level officials in and around New York, which I’ve suggested is a key obstacle to state and local factchecking? The New York City mayoral election was high profile but other city, county, and state officials around the area may be of less interest. Or do you expect that your main avenue of influence will be through the journalists who already cover those officials for their local communities?