I know it has an impact. The people who get fact-checked pay attention to it. When we had the governor in not too long ago for a session with our editorial board, at some point during the conversation he made a statement about something we had already fact-checked. We had found something wrong with the version of the claim he had been using, and now he had updated how he said it. It told me he had seen the item and he had adapted the statement so it was more accurate.
I know there are legislators at the Statehouse and in Washington who have specifically instructed their staffs that everything will be double-checked before they put it in a news release. They don’t want to get caught here with a silly error.
And in the long run, it might mean you have a better-educated electorate if voters see these posts. In 2010 PolitiFact Ohio started showing up in campaign ads as a source, as an authoritative source for some of the material they were citing.
When an issue that has been evaluated by PolitiFact Ohio comes up in a campaign, will the regular political staff writers cite that work to settle disputes?
I suspect there will be times when we incorporate it into news coverage. For example, if we are covering a Gingrich appearance and he talks about Obama as the “food stamp president,” PolitiFact national has done the research on that claim and we can cite specifically what has happened with food stamps while Obama has been president, and how that compares to other presidents. That could be woven into our story line as a paragraph or two to let people know this is what we found. I don’t think it is going to happen a lot, but it could happen.
The whole idea is to try and take the spin out of the comment, so when people hear the sound bite they have an idea what is behind the sound bite.
What is your audience like? Do you have any sense of how it compares to the audience for the regular political or news coverage?
It is very diverse. I know we have readers who are very conservative, and I know we have readers who are very liberal who read it every day. I get email from all ends of the political spectrum, both criticizing us because they don’t like what we wrote or suggesting items to take a look at. I like that. I get hit from both sides, with people accusing me of having a leftist bias or an obvious conservative bent. It’s refreshing to know we are hitting somewhere down the middle.
I track page views. For 2010 we had an average of 13,700 page views a week. We got a lot of help from the general election in 2010. Last year the average was about 14,500 views a week. We broke one million page views for the site early in November last year. This year, things are picking up quickly. Now we are up to 1.1 million page views. Those views are comparable to our politics page because typically PolitiFact is at the top of the politics page.
What are the benefits of structuring work in this way? Are there any drawbacks?
I think there is a bit of specialization, in that if it is for PolitiFact the style is different. It’s more laying things out, almost like a proof for a magazine piece as opposed to the space crunch you have in a newspaper. In part that is because it is an online product first and the papers are picking it up second.
But on other hand it seems to me to be important for news media to explain the facts and explain what is true. If we are reporting things without giving any background, it’s almost like play-by-play for a sports event. I don’t think in the long run that particularly helps readers. If Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich start taking shots at each other and you hear their sound bites over and over again, but don’t have any idea of what is real there, you are no better off.
What do you think about the discussion following the Arthur Brisbane piece regarding “truth vigilantes” in The New York Times, and the failings of conventional journalism? Is that fair?