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?
This is an area where partnerships with local media will play an important role. We intend to partner with local media organizations in every market (NYC, Upstate NY, NJ, CT) we cover. Not only will we offer our partners the ability to use our content but an editor at a partner organization can give us a call and say, “Hey, we’ve got a local official making a claim and we’d like your team to check it out.” We won’t ask our partners to dedicate staffers to work with us—we’ll handle the factchecking; our partners just need to keep an eye out for questionable claims during the course of their usual newsgathering operations.
So these partnership arrangements can multiply by many times over our ability to find and debunk inaccurate or misleading claims at the local level. And if it creates an environment where local offices know they may be subject to a factcheck—as your recent work has found, just that knowledge can make a difference.
Why did you reach out to me and other academics? How does social science inform what you do at TruePolitics, and how can journalists learn from and collaborate with social scientists more effectively?
When I started the preliminary research for this organization, I knew I needed to reach out not just to factcheckers, but also to academics and even campaign officials. I wanted to get every perspective I could on the state of the factchecking movement and what, if anything, could be done better. I’m interested not just in doing good journalism and informing the public but informing them in a way that actually reduces their belief in inaccurate information. It’s a tall order, and certainly all the research I’ve reviewed from you and others shows that there isn’t a simple formula to reduce the effects of misinformation. But it’s critical that we take advantage of the work done by social scientists to make this effort as effective as possible.
And I certainly think there are other areas outside of factchecking where journalists could collaborate with, or at least be aware of the work done by, social scientists—especially in political reporting. Much of the campaign reporting we see now, certainly on the national level, revolves around the importance of “gaffes” or other notable “moments” but there’s so much research out there that tends to show us that election results aren’t determined those moments. There was a good article by Ezra Klein in The Washington Post on this issue just this past Saturday.