“Pagella Politica”

Voices from London: reflections on the Global Fact-Checking Summit

The fact-checkers of the world met at City University London to discuss the growth and challenges of their unique form of journalism.

By Bill Adair – July 28, 2015 | Print this article

One thing stood out at last week’s Global Fact-Checking Summit: the variety of the voices.

The conference, held at City University London, was in English, but the 60-plus participants had wonderful accents that showed the great diversity of fact-checking around the world: Irish, Russian, Spanish, Italian, German, Bosnian and Korean, among many others.

The second annual Global Fact-Checking Summit attracted more than 60 fact-checkers and academics to City University London.
The second annual Global Fact-Checking Summit attracted more than 60 fact-checkers and academics to City University London.

Reflecting the growth of fact-checking, the group included representatives of new sites that have started in the past year or will be starting soon. The new fact-checkers included Enda and Orna Young from FactCheckNI in Northern Ireland; Dana Wagner and Jacob Schroeder of FactsCan in Canada; and Damakant Jayshi, who is starting a site in Nepal.

The most significant news from the conference, announced last Friday, was that Omidyar Network and the National Endowment for Democracy have provided funding to the Poynter Institute to become the home of international fact-checking. Poynter will organize future conferences like this one, create training programs and establish a website. The website will be welcomed by the fact-checkers who said they need a place to discuss common problems and share best practices.

We began the conference with a video montage that captured the wide range of fact-checking segments on TV:

I was especially impressed by the TV segments from El Objetivo, a program on La Sexta in Spain, and the program Virus on Rai, the public television network in Italy. (U.S. networks could learn some lessons from the creative Spanish and Italian networks, which spend more time on production and do better graphics than their U.S. counterparts do.)

Our keynote speaker was Adam Chodikoff, a senior producer at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. One of Adam’s roles at the show is to be Stewart’s fact-checker, to ensure that even the best satire is grounded in fact.

“Chods,” as he is known at the show, played some funny clips and spiced them with comments about how he researches the segments. One of the clips was a Stewart interview with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, when Stewart referred to a number that had been researched so well it was “Chods approved.”

Adam Chodikoff, a senior producer at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, addresses the conference. (Photo Chods approved.)
Adam Chodikoff, a senior producer at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, addresses the conference. (Photo Chods approved.)

Adam is not a journalist in the traditional sense, but he showed how serious he is about research and fact-checking by attending all of the sessions in the two-day conference.

The conference featured a wide range of presentations that showcased interesting work being done around the world: the commitment to research and development by Chequeado in Argentina; a new PolitiFact browser extension that will allow readers to request fact-checks of a phrase and Pagella Politica’s efforts to earn revenue from the leftovers of its reporting.

One of the most popular sessions at the conference was the in-depth discussion about sustainability and revenue sources that Alexios Mantzarlis of Pagella Politica led on Friday. His interview with Ivana Cvetkovic Bajrovic of the National Endowment for Democracy provided great insights for fact-checkers seeking grants for their organizations. Laura Zommer from Chequeado and Mevan Babakar from Full Fact also provided some great tips on crowdfunding.

There were many other great sessions throughout conference, and I think everybody agreed the two days went by too fast. But I came away with a common theme: As we build our community, we’ll get the best ideas from each other.

That brings me back to the voices. There were some great individual voices with some marvelous accents. But as a community, we’re getting louder.

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At the Global Fact-Checking Summit, a call to look ahead

At the second international conference, the director of the Reporters' Lab says fact-checkers need to focus on funding and technology.

By Bill Adair – July 23, 2015 | Print this article

My opening remarks at the Global Fact-Checking Summit at City University London, July 23, 2015:

This is an exciting time for fact-checking around the world.

A year ago, we had 44 active fact-checking groups. Today we have 64. We’ve got new sites in countries where there hasn’t been any fact-checking before — South Korea and Turkey and Uruguay. And we’ve got many fact-checking sites in Latin America thanks in part to the energetic work of Laura Zommer and her talented colleagues at Chequeado.

And joining us today are journalists from brand-new fact-checking sites just getting started in Nepal, Canada, Northern Ireland and Russia.

Wow. Think about what is happening here: politicians in Nepal and Canada and Mexico and Northern Ireland and Russia are now going to be held accountable in ways that they never have before.

Fact-checking has become a powerful and important new form of accountability journalism around the world. We should be very proud of what we’ve accomplished.

There are some great stories about our impact.

In South Africa, Africa Check has become such an important part of the news ecosystem that when someone from the main opposition party gives a speech, the party routinely issues a standard form – they call it the “Africa Check Response Form” – to list sources that back up claims the politician is making during the speech.

In Italy, a politician posted on his Facebook page that several thousand policemen had tested positive for tuberculosis because they had come into contact with immigrants crossing the Mediterranean illegally. The rumor fueled fears in Italy that the disease was about to become an epidemic. Pagella Politica fact-checked the claim and found it was ridiculously false. When confronted with the fact-check on a radio interview, the politician had the good sense to apologize for spreading a false rumor.

In the United States, fact-checkers are already uncovering falsehoods of the 2016 presidential candidates at a remarkable pace — and the election is more than a year away.

From governors to U.S. senators, American politicians are frequently citing the U.S. fact-checkers — and are clearly changing their behavior because they know they are being checked. Jeb Bush, Rick Perry and Marco Rubio, three of the Republican presidential candidates, have all said they are more careful what they say because they know they are being fact-checked — and this is the term they used — “PolitiFacted.”

This is a wonderful moment for our movement. In hundreds of ways big and small, fact-checking has changed the world.

But rather than spend a lot of time celebrating the progress we’ve made, this week I think we should focus on the future and discuss some of our common problems and challenges.

We need to talk candidly about our readership. Although our audience is growing, it is still way too small. I expect that in most countries, fact-checks reach only a tiny percentage of voters.

We can’t be complacent and wait for people to come to our sites. We must expand our audiences through creative marketing and partnerships with larger media organizations. We must get our fact-checking in the old media — on TV and radio and in newspapers — even as we experiment with new media.

We also have to find new ways to make our content engaging. As we all know from looking at our metrics, there is a limited audience that wants to read lengthy policy articles. We need to find ways to make our content lively while still maintaining depth and substance.

We also need to focus on the quality of our journalism. Tomorrow morning Lucas Graves will be unveiling the first content analysis of fact-checking around the world. I’m hopeful it will lead to a thorough discussion of our best practices and, later this year, to a more extensive analysis of more sites in more countries.

We’ve devoted the longest session at the conference to the most significant challenge fact-checkers are facing — how to pay for our journalism. If you’ve looked at the database of fact-checkers I keep on the website of the Duke Reporters’ Lab, you’ve probably noticed that sites are marked “Active” or “Inactive.”

We do that because sites come and go, particularly after elections. In some cases, that’s because news organizations mistakenly believe that fact-checking is only needed during a campaign (Do news executives really think politicians stop lying on election day?). In most cases, sites go inactive because the funding dried up.

So at the conference this week, we must explore a wide variety of ways to pay for our important journalism. We can’t depend solely on foundations the way many of us have done. Likewise, those of us who have been fortunate enough to have been supported by legacy media organizations like newspapers and television networks would also be wise to find additional sources of revenue.

We need to think broadly and be creative. We can find long-term success the same way investors do: by diversifying. If we seek different types of revenue from more sources, we’ll be less vulnerable when one goes away.

As we look to the future, we also need to embrace technology and the power of computing. We’ve had a fascinating discussion about computing on our listserv a couple of weeks ago. But in that discussion and some others, I’ve heard a few hints that fact-checkers still have a skepticism about technology — the belief that computers won’t be able to do the work of human journalists. As one commenter put it, computers aren’t capable of assessing the complexity of politics and propaganda

I rate that statement Half True. While it’s true that computers can’t write fact-checks for us – yet – we have found ways they can help with our analysis, particularly with mundane and repetitive tasks.

As you’ll see in a session tomorrow, research projects at Duke, the University of Texas at Arlington and other places are showing great promise in using computational power to help journalists do fact-checking. Actually, computers CAN assess rhetoric and propaganda.

Although we are still years away from completely automated fact-checking — letting the robots do fact-checking for us — we have made tremendous progress in just the past year.

I think we’re just three to five years away from the point when automation can do many of the tasks of human fact-checkers — helping us find factual claims, helping us assess whether claims are accurate and providing automated ways to broadcast our fact-checks to much larger audiences.

We should not be afraid of technological progress. It will help us be better journalists and it will help us spread our messages to more people.

I’m glad you’re here. We’ve got some lively discussions ahead. Whether we’re talking about our challenges with funding, the importance of lively content or the promise of new technology, our goal is the same: To hold people in power accountable for their words.

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Report from Perugia: Fact-checkers discuss sustainability, July meeting, olive oil

The regional meeting included fact-checkers from Bosnia, the Czech Republic, Nepal, Italy, Iran, Africa and Ukraine.

By Bill Adair – April 20, 2015 | Print this article

We had a great turnout for last week’s regional meeting of fact-checkers in Perugia, Italy.

The 15 attendees came from fact-checking sites in Bosnia, the Czech Republic, Iran, Africa, Nepal, Italy and the United States. Several came long distances: Damakant Jayshi, who is starting a new site in Nepal, traveled about 4,000 miles; Farhad Souzanchi, who operates the Iranian Rouhani Meter from Toronto, Canada, came 4,300 miles.

Fact-checkers in Perugia.
Fact-checkers in Perugia.

Alexios Mantzarlis, his team from Pagella Politica, and RAI TV producer Alberto Puoti were our Italian hosts. They translated menus, recommended the local specialties (wild boar!) and helped us appreciate good olive oil.

One discovery: It turns out there is good wine in Italy, so we tried some.

We organized the meeting to coincide with the International Journalism Festival, a wonderful conference held every year in the old hilltop city. (Actually, calling an Italian city “old” is probably redundant!)

At the journalism festival, Alexios, Peter Cunliffe-Jones and I were on a panel that showed how fact-checking can be done by any beat reporter. Margo Gontar of Stop Fake in Ukraine was on a panel about debunking false information.

We all got together Saturday morning in a hotel conference room and discussed the challenge of sustainability and how we can find new sources of revenue. We also talked about our two successful global checkathons and the pros and cons of fact-checking the media.

We met Saturday morning in a hotel conference room and discussed the challenge of sustainability and other topics.
We met Saturday morning in a hotel conference room and discussed the challenge of sustainability and other topics.

We discussed possible topics for our London summit in late July, including how to adapt fact-checks to different platforms, how to make our work more lively and how to measure our impact.

Another topic: the need to collect examples of how our fact-checking is having an impact. I’m going to create a simple Google form that you can use to submit anecodtes and then I’ll publish them here.

The Perugia meeting was truly inspiring for me. It showed how this new form of journalism continues to grow. As always, I came away impressed by the caliber of the journalists doing the work and their dedication. I was particularly impressed by Farhad and Damakant, who are fact-checking and promise-checking politicians in countries that are not very welcoming to journalists. They show that our work doesn’t just take journalistic skill, it also takes courage.

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From ‘Baloney’ to ‘Screaming Lies’: the extreme ratings of the world’s fact-checkers

Our 2015 census of fact-checkers reveals the odd names they use for the most ridiculous falsehoods.

By Claire Ballentine – February 5, 2015 | Print this article

FactCheckEU calls them “Insane Whoppers.” The Voice of San Diego uses “Huckster Propaganda.” Honolulu Civil Beat refers to them as “Screaming Lies.”

From Rome to Hawaii and everywhere in between, the growth of political fact-checking has spawned new rating systems that use catchy names for the most ridiculous falsehoods.

While conducting our census of fact-checking sites around the world, we encountered some amusing ratings. Here is a sampling:

  • Canada’s Baloney Meter measures the accuracy of politicians’ statements based of how much “baloney” they contain. This ranges from “No Baloney” (the statement is completely accurate) to “Full of Baloney” (completely inaccurate).
  • FactCheckEU, which rates statements by politicians in Europe, uses a rating system that includes “Rather Daft” and “Insane Whopper.”
  • The Washington Post Fact Checker, written by reporter Glenn Kessler, utilizes the classic tale of Pinocchio to rate the claims made by politicians, political candidates and diplomats. A rating of one Pinocchio indicates some shading of the facts, while two Pinocchios means there were significant omissions or exaggerations. A rating of four Pinocchios simply means  “whoppers.” The French site Les Pinocchios uses a similar scale.
  • In Australia, ABC Fact Check uses a wide range of labels that are often tailored to the specific fact-check. They include “Exaggerated,” “Far-fetched,” “Cherrypicking” and “More to the Story.”
  • PolitiFact, the fact-checking venture of the Tampa Bay Times, uses the Truth-O-Meter, which rates statements from “True” to “Pants on Fire” (a rating reserved for the most ridiculous falsehoods).
  • The Honolulu Civil Beat rates the most outrageous statements as “Screaming Lies.”

    From The Hound in Mexico
    A false rating from The Hound in Mexico
  • Mexico’s new site The Hound rates statements from “Verdadero” (true) to “Ridiculo” (ridiculous), accompanied by images of dogs wearing detective hats. Uruguay’s UYCheck uses a similar scale. Argentina’s Chequeado also uses a “Verdadero” to “Falso” scale, plus ratings for “Exagerado” (exaggerated) and “Enganoso” (deceitful/misleading).
  • In California, the local website Voice of San Diego uses a system modeled after PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter. But instead of “Pants on Fire,” it uses “Huckster Propaganda.”
  • Denver’s NBC 9 Truth Test gives verdicts such as “Needs Context” and “Deceptive.”
  • In California, the Sacramento Bee’s Ad Watch uses a scale from “True” to “Outright Lie.”
  • Instead of words, WRAL in Raleigh uses traffic lights. Green is “go ahead, run with it”; red means “stop right there.”
  • Italy’s Pagella Politica labels its most far-fetched statements as “Panzana Pazzesca,” which loosely translates as “crazy fib” or “insane whopper.”
  • Australia’s Crikey Get Fact site named its fact-checking meter the Fib-O-Matic. Ratings range from true to “Rubbish.”
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