Our experiment was possible because of the innovative state franchise model employed by PolitiFact, which currently has affiliates in 10 states that are operated by a local media partner. However, efforts to further expand state and local factchecking will confront a difficult challenge—the lack of audience demand that is the reason those politicians tend to receive less coverage in the first place. Factcheckers are clearly responding to public interest in focusing on high-profile targets from presidential campaigns and national politics. The standard factchecking format, which can be relatively dry, may be an especially tough sell if their focus shifts to less prominent officials.

One way to address this challenge would be for factcheckers to explain to readers why seemingly obscure politicians like state lawmakers matter—a case that should be easier to make today given the heated policy battles going on in many states. Another possibility is that factcheckers need to experiment with new innovations in format and storytelling like The Washington Post’s Wonkblog did for public policy and NPR’s Planet Money is doing for financial/economic coverage. Whoever can figure out the most effective model for state and local factchecking will make a key contribution to the growth and development of the movement.

 

Brendan Nyhan is an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College. He blogs at brendan-nyhan.com and tweets @BrendanNyhan.