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The Politics and Business of Fact Checking

Politifact.com Fact Checking
Politifact.com Fact Checking
Politifact.com

How many times have you read something that you were completely surprised to find out, then later discovered that it was false or based off bad information? This actually happens all of the time, and thanks to the internet, it actually happens more often than ever before.

When it comes to big-name media brands and the reputation and careers of journalists, they need to make sure they have their facts straight. There is nothing worse than breaking a news story, then having to come out later and apologize for having the information wrong. Not to mention how this could lead to defamation if your report is on a specific individual or brand.

There is probably no other industry where fact-checking is more important than in the political space, where every candidate is out to try and find the dirt on everyone else. This is a topic that was recently discussed on Yahoo News and how fact-checking journalism is now on the rise again.

Fact Checking in Journalism

The article goes on to mention that sites like FactCheck.org and PolitiFact.com have made the process of finding accurate information a lot easier for journalists and news outlets to get their stories straight.

Following the notoriety in the United States, similar fact-checking news organizations have sprung up on every continent, gaining attention in places ranging from Egypt to Australia, Chile and France, according to a Duke University study.

The study led by Bill Adair, a Duke faculty member who was a founder of PolitiFact at the Tampa Bay Times, identified 59 fact-checking groups globally, of which more than 15 are in the United States.

– Yahoo News / AFP

With such demand for these fact-checking services within the U.S., it's no surprise to see them quickly spreading throughout the world. Political unrest, controversy and elections are always going to be a hot topic – and being able to back up your statements with factual evidence is huge!

PolitiFact Political Promises Tracker

One of the great benefits to these "fact-checking" sites is that they are giving journalists and the average person the ability to research what political candidates have promised in the past and allows them to see whether or not they have delivered. The value here for journalists who cover anything in the political space is immeasurable.

In the screenshot below, you can see the PolitiFact.com "Obamameter," which tracks Obama's campaign promises and breaks them down based on whether the promises were kept, compromised, broken, stalled out or not yet rated.

Politifact Obamameter

With such valuable information available through their site, it's no surprise to learn that PolitiFact won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize and was also a valuable asset during the 2008 Presidential race with Barack Obama and John McCain.

Fact-checking isn't Fun or Profitable...

It's really no surprise that there is nothing fun about fact-checking... and as the Yahoo article mentioned, it's also not a profitable business and being the middle man of information between two powerful political candidates and parties can result in some pretty dirty business.

Fact-checking websites often emerge from projects and newspapers or other media organizations, and in most cases are subsidized either by the news organization or outside funding.
"It is a vital public service but it is not profitable," Adair said.
Fact-checking is not immune from the controversies surrounding all kinds of journalism.
Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman, who has seen some of his claims questioned by fact-checkers like PolitiFact, has been a vocal critic.
"The people at PolitiFact are terrified of being considered partisan if they acknowledge the clear fact that there's a lot more lying on one side of the political divide than on the other," Krugman wrote in 2011.
"So they've bent over backwards to appear 'balanced' -- and in the process made themselves useless and irrelevant."

– Yahoo News / AFP

Sites like PolitiFact have also come under scrutiny from well known media commentators such as MSNBC's Rachel Maddow after receiving a rating of "half true."

Just The Facts...

In the world of media and news reporting, not everyone is going to be happy and people are going to get offended. The business of pointing out the truth is a dirty one but also a much needed one.

However, even with fact checking sites and journalism on the rise, nothing is going to stop political candidates from saying what they need to say to win an election.

The important take-away from this article and the future of fact-checking is that as a journalist or media news outlet, it's extremely important to make sure you get the facts straight. A juicy breaking news story with attention-seeking headlines might get you global attention for one day, but the result of not having accurate information can haunt your reputation and brand for the rest of your life.