Fact Deserts

Fact deserts leave states vulnerable to election lies

Politicians in 29 states get little scrutiny for what they say, while local fact-checkers in other places struggle to keep pace with campaign misinformation.

By Belen Bricchi – November 16, 2022 | Print this article

Amid the political lies and misinformation that spread across the country throughout the 2022 midterm elections, statements by candidates in 29 states rarely faced the scrutiny of independent fact-checkers.

Fact Deserts cover
Read PDF Version

Why? Because there weren’t any local fact-checkers.

Even in the places where diligent local media outlets regularly made active efforts to verify the accuracy of political claims, the volume of questionable statements in debates, speeches, campaign ads and social posts far outpaced the fact-checkers’ ability to set the record straight.

An initial survey by Reporters’ Lab at Duke University identified 46 locally focused fact-checking projects during this year’s campaign in 21 states and the District of Columbia. That count is little changed in the national election years since 2016, when an average of 47 fact-checking projects were active at the state and local level.

Active State/Local Fact-Checkers in the U.S., 2003-22

Active State/Local Fact-Checkers in the U.S., 2003-22

There’s also been lots of turnover among local fact-checking projects over time. At least 40 projects have come and gone since 2010. And fact-checking is not always front and center, even among the news outlets that devote considerable effort and time to this reporting.

While some fact-checkers consistently produce reports from election to election, many others are campaign-season one-offs. And the overwhelming emphasis on campaign claims can produce a fact-vacuum after the votes are counted — when elected officials, party operatives and others in the political process continue to make erroneous and misleading statements.

Fact-checks also can be hard for readers and viewers to find — sometimes appearing only in a broader scroll of state political news, with little effort to make this vital reporting stand out or to showcase it on a separate page. 

The Duke Reporters’ Lab conducted this initial survey to assess the state of local fact-checking during the 2022 midterm elections. The Lab first began tracking fact-checking projects across the United States and around the world in 2014 and maintains a global database and map of fact-checking projects.

While 29 states currently appear to have no fact-checking projects that regularly report on claims from politicians or social media at the local level, residents may encounter occasional one-off fact-checks from their state’s media outlets. 

Among the states lacking dedicated fact-checking projects are four that had hotly contested Senate or governor races this fall — New Hampshire, Kansas, Ohio and Oregon.

States with active local fact-checking projects, 2022

The states with the most robust fact-checking in terms of projects based there include Texas with five outlets; Iowa and North Carolina with four; and Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin with three each. 

Competition seems to generate additional fact-checking. States with active fact-checking projects tend to have at least two (14 states of the 21), while seven states and D.C. have a single locally focused project.

Local television stations are the most active fact-check producers. Of the outlets that generated fact-checks at the state and local level this year, more than half are local television stations. That’s a change over the past two decades, when newspapers and their websites were the primary outlets for local fact-checks.

Who Produces Local Fact-Checks?

Local fact-checking projects by medium: TV (24), newspaper (11), digital (9), radio (2)

Almost all local fact-checking projects are run by media outlets, while several are based at universities or nonprofit organizations. The university-related fact-checkers are Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication; The Daily Iowan, the University of Iowa’s independent student newspaper; and West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media. All three are state affiliates of PolitiFact, the prolific national fact-checking organization based at the nonprofit Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida.

National news partnerships and media owners drive a significant amount of local fact-checking. Of the 46 projects, almost a quarter are affiliated with PolitiFact, while another half-dozen are among the most active local stations participating in the Verify fact-checking project by TV company Tegna. In addition, five Graham Media Group television stations use a unified Trust Index brand at the local level.

One of the newest efforts to encourage local fact-checking is Repustar’s Gigafact, a non-profit project that partnered with three newsrooms to counter misinformation during the midterms. The Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, The Nevada Independent and Wisconsin Watch produced “fact briefs,” which are short, timely reports that answer yes or no questions, such as “Is Nevada’s violent crime rate higher than the national average?

Nearly 40 percent of the fact-checkers in the Lab’s count got their start since 2020, including 11 projects in that year alone. In contrast, the oldest fact-checker, WISC-TV in Madison, Wisconsin, began producing its Reality Check segments almost two decades ago, in 2004. It’s among 12 fact-checkers that have been active for 10 years or more.

Another new initiative launched in April to increase Spanish language fact-checking at the local level in the U.S. — but with the help of two prominent international fact-checking organizations. 

Factchequeado, a partnership between Maldita.es of Spain and Chequeado in Argentina, has built a network of 27 allies, including 19 local news outlets in the U.S. through which they share fact-checks and media literacy content. Currently, the majority of Factchequeado fact-checks are produced at the national level by its own staff. Through its U.S. partnerships, Factchequeado aims to train Hispanic journalists to produce original fact-checks in Spanish at the local level.

The Reporters’ Lab conducted this survey with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which also has helped fund the Lab’s work on automated fact-checking. The Lab intends to follow up its initial assessment of the local fact-checking landscape with a post-election report that will dive into some of the challenges facing journalists trying to do this vital work. Our follow-up report will explore the content of local fact-checkers’ work in 2022, including data on whom they fact-checked and their approaches to rating claims. We will interview local reporters, producers and editors about public and political feedback and their editorial processes and methodologies. We also intend to examine why some local fact-checking initiatives are short-lived election-year efforts while others have carried on consistently for many years.

Here’s how we decide which fact-checkers to include in the Reporters’ Lab database. The Lab continually collects new information about the fact-checkers it identifies, such as when they launched and how long they last. If you know of a fact-checking project that has been missed, please contact Mark Stencel and Erica Ryan at the Reporters’ Lab.

Joel Luther of the Reporters’ Lab contributed to this report.

Appendix: Local Fact-Checking Projects


Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting (Gigafact) | Phoenix
Fact-checking for Repustar’s Gigafact Project by an independent, nonprofit newsroom in Phoenix funded by individual donors, foundations, fee-for-service revenue and other sources. Repustar is a privately-funded benefit corporation based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

PolitiFact Arizona | Phoenix
The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University is PolitiFact’s local affiliate in Arizona. PolitiFact previously worked in Arizona with KNXV-TV (ABC15), ABC’s local affiliate in Phoenix, as part of partnership with the station’s owner, Scripps TV Station Group. (KNXV-TV had previously produced its own “Truth Test” segments.) PolitiFact’s national staff maintained the site starting with the 2018 midterm election cycle until the fact-checking organization partnered with ASU in 2022.


PolitiFact California | Sacramento
Affiliate of PolitiFact, staffed by reporters at Capital Public Radio.

Sacramento Bee Fact Check | Sacramento
Fact-checks by Sacramento Bee reporters appear in its Capitol Alert section, especially in election years. Began as an “Ad Watch” feature focused on political advertising.


9News Truth Test | Denver
NBC’s local TV affiliate in Denver has long done political fact-checking, particularly during elections. In addition, the Tegna-owned station also actively contributes to the Verify initiative — a companywide fact-checking and explanatory journalism project that involves a mix of local stories and national reporting shared across more than 60 stations (https://www.9news.com/verify). 9News relies on funding from advertising and local carriage fees from cable, satellite and digital TV service providers.

CBS4 Reality Check | Denver
Election-year fact-checks from Denver’s local, CBS-owned commercial TV affiliate.

District of Columbia

WUSA9 Verify | Washington
WUSA9 is among the most active contributors in Tegna’s Verify initiative — a companywide fact-checking and explanatory journalism project that involves a mix of local stories and national reporting shared across more than 60 stations. The Washington-area’s CBS affiliate relies on funding from advertising and local carriage fees from cable, satellite and digital TV service providers.


News4Jax Trust Index | Jacksonville
Fact-checking by the news team at WJXT-TV (News4Jax), an independent commercial TV station in Jacksonville, Florida. News4Jax is owned by the Graham Media Group, a commercial media company whose stations launched their “Trust Index” reporting during the 2020 U.S. elections with help and training from Fathm, a media lab and international consulting group.

News 6 Trust Index | Orlando
Fact-checking by the news team at WKMG-TV (News 6), the CBS affiliate in Orlando, Florida. News 6 is owned by the Graham Media Group, a commercial media company whose regional TV stations launched their “Trust Index” reporting during the 2020 U.S. elections with help and training from Fathm, a media lab and international consulting group.

PolitiFact Florida | St. Petersburg
PolitiFact’s reporting on the state is produced in affiliation with the Tampa Bay Times. The newspaper’s bureau in Washington, D.C., was the fact-checking service’s original home before it was folded into the Poynter Institute — a non-profit media training center in St. Petersburg, Florida, that also owns the Times and its commercial publishing company. From 2010 to 2017, the Miami Herald was also a PolitiFact Florida reporting and distribution partner.


11 Alive Verify | Atlanta
WXIA is among the most active contributors in Tegna’s Verify initiative — a companywide fact-checking and explanatory journalism project that involves a mix of local stories and national reporting shared across more than 60 stations. The Atlanta-area’s NBC affiliate relies on funding from advertising and local carriage fees from cable, satellite and digital TV service providers.


PolitiFact Illinois | Chicago
Affiliate of PolitiFact, staffed by reporters and researchers from the Better Government Association, a nonprofit watchdog organization founded in 1923 that focuses on investigative journalism. PolitiFact’s previous news partner in the state was Reboot Illinois, a for-profit digital news service.


Gazette Fact Checker | Cedar Rapids
Fact-checks by reporters at The Cedar Rapids Gazette. The newspaper previously worked on its fact-checks in collaboration with KCRG-TV, a local TV station the Gazette owned until 2015.

KCCI’s Get the Facts | Des Moines
Fact-checks of campaign ads during election cycles by reporters at the Des Moines, Iowa, CBS affiliate, a commercial station owned by Hearst Television.

KCRG-TV’s “I9 Fact Checker” | Cedar Rapids
Occasional fact-checks presented by commercial station KCRG-TV’s “I9 Investigation” team. The local ABC affiliate in Cedar Rapids was previously owned by the area’s local newspaper, The Cedar Rapids Gazette. The two news organizations worked together on fact-checks from 2014 to 2018.

PolitiFact Iowa | Iowa City
Affiliate of PolitiFact, staffed by reporters at The Daily Iowan, the independent student newspaper at the University of Iowa. PolitiFact’s previous state partner in Iowa was the Des Moines Register.


Bangor Daily News Ad Watch | Bangor
Fact-checks of campaign ads during election season by staffers at the Bangor daily newspaper.

Portland Press Herald | Portland
Fact-checks of campaign ads during election cycles by staffers at the daily newspaper in Portland, Maine.


Bridge Michigan | Detroit
An ongoing reporting project published mainly in election years by Bridge Magazine, an online journal published by the non-profit Center for Michigan. Originally called The Truth Squad, the project began as a standalone site before it merged with the center and its magazine in 2012. The Bridge’s fact-checkers also have collaborated with public media’s Michigan Radio.

Local 4 Trust Index | Detroit
Fact-checking by the news team at WDIV-TV (Local 4), the NBC affiliate for Detroit, Michigan. Local 4 is owned by the Graham Media Group, a commercial media company whose regional TV stations launched their “Trust Index” reporting during the 2020 U.S. elections with help and training from Fathm, a media lab and international consulting group.

PolitiFact Michigan | Detroit
Affiliate of PolitiFact, staffed by reporters from the Detroit Free Press. The newspaper previously did fact-checking on its own during the 2014 midterm elections.


5 Eyewitness News Truth Test | St. Paul
Election season fact-checking by the local ABC affiliate’s political reporter.

CBS Minnesota Reality Check | Minneapolis
Fact-checking by the news staff at the local CBS affiliate in Minneapolis.


KY3 Fact Finders | Springfield
Fact-checks by an anchor/reporter for the NBC affiliate in Springfield, Missouri. Focuses on rumors and questions from viewers.

News 4 Fact Check | St. Louis
Election season fact-checks by reporters at CBS’s local affiliate in St. Louis.


Reno Gazette-Journal Fact Checker | Reno
Fact-checks by RGJ’s local government reporter and engagement director. The position is supported by donations and grants.

The Nevada Independent (Gigafact) | Las Vegas
Fact-checking for Repustar’s Gigafact Project by a nonprofit news website in Las Vegas funded by corporate donations, memberships, foundation grants and other sources. Repustar is a privately-funded benefit corporation based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

New Mexico

4 Investigates Fact Check | Albuquerque
Occasional fact-checks by the investigative news team at KOB-TV (KOB4), a commercial TV station owned by Hubbard Broadcasting Company that is NBC’s local affiliate in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A reporter conducts the fact-checks with the help of a political scientist from the University of New Mexico.

New York

News10NBC Fact Check | Rochester
Fact-checks by an anchor/reporter at the Rochester, New York, NBC affiliate, that focus on rumors and questions from viewers.

PolitiFact New York | Buffalo
Affiliate of PolitiFact, staffed by reporters from the Buffalo News.

North Carolina

CBS 17 Truth Tracker and Digging Deeper | Raleigh-Goldsboro
Fact-checks by a data reporter from the Raleigh-area’s local CBS affiliate — a commercial TV station owned by Nexstar Media Group. Televised versions of the “Digging Deeper” segments are supplemented with source material on the station’s website, with political “Truth Tracker” reports appearing on its election news page.

PolitiFact North Carolina | Raleigh
Affiliate of PolitiFact, staffed by reporters at WRAL-TV, a privately owned commercial station that is NBC’s local affiliate in the Raleigh-Durham area. The News & Observer, a McClatchy-owned newspaper in Raleigh, was PolitiFact’s original local news partner in the state from 2016 to 2019.

The News & Observer’s Fact-Checking Project | Raleigh
Fact-checks by the reporting staff of The News & Observer, the McClatchy owned newspaper in Raleigh, North Carolina. It freely distributes its fact-checking to other media in the state. The N&O previously did fact-checking as PolitiFact’s state partner from 2016 to 2019.

WCNC Verify | Charlotte
WCNC is among the most active contributors in Tegna’s Verify initiative — a companywide fact-checking and explanatory journalism project that involves a mix of local stories and national reporting shared across more than 60 stations. The Charlotte-area’s NBC affiliate relies on funding from advertising and local carriage fees from cable, satellite and digital TV service providers.


The Frontier fact checks | Tulsa
Fact-checking by reporters from this non-profit news site based in Tulsa. The fact-checks appear in the form of thematic roundups posted with the site’s other news stories. The Frontiers’ work is also used by other Oklahoma media. The Frontier Media Group Inc. operates the site with support from foundations, corporate supporters and individual donors.


News 8 “Ad Watch” | Lancaster
Ad Watch segments appear during election campaigns in televised newscasts and on the politics page of this local, commercially supported TV station. Based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, WGAL-TV is owned by Hearst Television and is the local NBC affiliate for the Susquehanna Valley region, including the state capital in Harrisburg.


KHOU11 Verify | Houston
KHOU is among the most active contributors in Tegna’s Verify initiative — a companywide fact-checking and explanatory journalism project that involves a mix of local stories and national reporting shared across more than 60 stations. The Houston-area’s CBS affiliate relies on funding from advertising and local carriage fees from cable, satellite and digital TV service providers.

KPRC Trust Index | Houston
Fact-checking by the news team at KPRC-TV, the NBC affiliate for Houston, Texas. KPRC is owned by the Graham Media Group, a commercial media company whose local TV stations launched their “Trust Index” reporting during the 2020 U.S. elections with help and training from Fathm, a media lab and international consulting group.

KSAT Trust Index | San Antonio
Fact-checking by the news team at KSAT-TV, the ABC affiliate in San Antonio, Texas. KSAT is owned by the Graham Media Group, a commercial media company whose regional TV stations launched their “Trust Index” reporting during the 2020 U.S. elections with help and training from Fathm, a media lab and international consulting group.

PolitiFact Texas | Austin, Houston, San Antonio
Affiliate of PolitiFact, with contributions from its three newspaper partners in the state, Austin American Statesman, Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News.

WFAA’s Verify Road Trip | Dallas
WFAA-TV’s contribution to Tegna’s companywide fact-checking and explanatory journalism project is its “Verify Road Trip” segments. For these stories, the Dallas-area ABC affiliate enlists viewers to be “guest reporters” who join the news team to find answers to their questions. The station relies on funding from advertising and local carriage fees from cable, satellite and digital TV service providers. Verify Road Trip also has a YouTube page.


PolitiFact Virginia | Richmond
Staffed by reporters from the news team at WCVE-FM in the Richmond/Petersburg area, where the station is part of a cluster of regional public broadcasters. WCVE revived PolitiFact’s presence in the commonwealth after a nearly two-year hiatus. (PolitiFact’s original local news partner, the Richmond Times Dispatch, operated the Virginia site from 2010 to 2016.)

West Virginia

PolitiFact West Virginia | Morgantown
Affiliate of PolitiFact, staffed by student reporters at West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media.


News 3 Reality Check | Madison
Video fact-checking segments by News 3 team on Wisconsin politics and TV ads, especially during election season.

PolitiFact Wisconsin | Milwaukee
Affiliate of PolitiFact, staffed by reporters from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Wisconsin Watch (Gigafact) | Madison
Fact-checking for Repustar’s Gigafact Project by a nonprofit news outlet in Wisconsin funded by grants from foundations, individual and corporate donations and other sources. Repustar is a privately-funded benefit corporation based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Back to top

Africa Check rating

The number of fact-checkers around the world: 156… and growing

Collaboration, aggregation and networks add to the Reporters' Lab ongoing survey of fact-checking projects in more than 50 countries.

By Mark Stencel – August 7, 2018 | Print this article

The number of active fact-checking projects around the world now stands at 156, with steady growth driven by expanding networks and new media partnerships that focus on holding public figures and organizations accountable for what they say.

And elections this year in the United States and around the globe mean that number will likely increase even more by the time the Duke Reporters’ Lab publishes its annual census early next year. Our map of the fact-checkers now shows them in 55 countries.

There were 149 active fact-checking ventures in the annual summary we published in February, up from 44 when we started this count in 2014. And after this summer’s Global Fact summit in Rome — where the attendee list topped 200 and the waitlist was more than three times as long — we still have plenty of other possible additions to vet and review in the coming weeks. So check back for updates.

Among the most recent additions is Faktiskt, a Swedish media partnership that aggregates reporting from five news organizations — two newspapers, two public broadcasters and a digital news service. We’ve seen other aggregation partnerships like this elsewhere, such as Faktenfinder in Germany and SNU FactCheck in South Korea. (This is a different model from the similarly named Faktisk partnership in Norway, where six news organizations operate a jointly funded fact-checking team whose work is made freely available as a public service to other media in the country.)

As we prepare for our annual fact-checking census, we plan to look more closely at the output of each contributor to these aggregation networks to see which of them we should also count as standalone fact-checkers. Our goal is to represent the full range of independent and journalistic fact-checking, including clusters of projects in particular countries and local regions, as well as ventures that find ways to operate across borders.

Along those lines, we also added checkmarks to our map for Africa Check‘s offices in Kenya and Nigeria. We had done the same previously for the South Africa-based project’s office in Senegal, which covers francophone countries in West Africa. The new additions have been around awhile too: The Kenya office has been in business since late 2016 and the Nigeria office opened two months later.

Meanwhile, our friends at Africa Check regularly help us identify other standalone fact-checking projects, including two more new additions to our database: Dubawa in Nigeria and ZimFact in Zimbabwe. The fast growth of fact-checking across Africa is one reason the International Fact-Checking Network’s sixth Global Fact summit will be in Cape Town next summer.

One legacy of these yearly summits is IFCN’s code of principles, and the code has established an independent evaluation process to certify that each of its signatories adheres to those ethical and journalistic standards. Our database includes all 58 signatories, including the U.S.-based (but Belgium-born) hoax-busting site Lead Stories; Maldita’s “Maldito Bulo” (or “Damned Hoax”) in Spain; and the “cek facta” section of the Indonesian digital news portal Liputan6. All three are among our latest additions.

There’s more to come from us. We plan to issue monthly updates as we try to keep our heads and arms around this fast-growing journalism movement. I’ll be relying heavily on Reporters’ Lab student researcher Daniela Flamini, who has just returned from a summer fact-checking internship at Chequeado in Argentina. Daniela takes over from recently graduated researcher Riley Griffin, who helped maintain our database for the past year.

Take a look at the criteria we use to select the fact-checkers we include in this database and let us know if you have any additions to suggest.

Back to top

In Buenos Aires, a discussion about the impact of fact-checking

Researchers talked about the impact of graphic ratings and the big challenge: persuading partisans.

By Hank Tucker – June 18, 2016 | Print this article

Donald Trump’s rise to the Republican nomination for president of the United States, seemingly immune to fact-checkers that debunk his false statements, has prompted a simple question about American politics: Do facts matter?

Four researchers attempted to answer this question at the Global Fact-Checking Summit in Buenos Aires during a panel discussion moderated by Alexios Mantzarlis, the director of the International Fact-Checking Network. The presenters showed evidence that fact-checking has an impact on both politicians and some voters, but they agreed that many people use fact-checks to support preexisting ideologies.

Jason Reifler, a professor of politics at the University of Exeter who specializes in fact-checking, sent letters to an experimental group of state legislators in states with PolitiFact franchises warning about fact-checking and cautioning them to make accurate claims. Reifler and Dartmouth professor Brendan Nyhan found that politicians who received letters were less likely to make false claims than politicians who did not receive a letter.

This study indicates that fact-checking matters to politicians, but it is still unclear how much it matters to voters. Reifler noted that motivated reasoning and selective exposure often cloud voters’ opinions of fact-checking.

“People will go to media and media sources that are more congenial to what they want to hear,” Reifler said. “When people encounter information, if they have a directional goal, they want to try and be consistent with it. They want to maintain their ideological priors and they want to maintain their political preferences.”

In a separate study focused on voters, Reifler showed that people pay attention to fact-checks but are more likely to read the ones that refute the politicians they oppose. He presented participants with the option to

The panel include Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter, moderator Alexios Mantzarlis, Eugenia Mitchelstein of Universidad de San Andrés in Argentina and Leticia Bode of Georgetown University.
The panel include Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter, moderator Alexios Mantzarlis, Eugenia Mitchelstein of Universidad de San Andrés in Argentina and Leticia Bode of Georgetown University.

read either two fact-checks by Pagella Politica, one against a politician from either the left or right and an unrelated article, or two articles unrelated to politics and fact-checking.

Forty-three percent of respondents chose to read both fact-checks and 83 percent read at least one, but of the 40 percent that only read one along with an unrelated article, the majority chose the fact-check that criticized a politician they opposed..

Leticia Bode, a Georgetown University professor specializing in misinformation and social media, and Eugenia Mitchelstein, a researcher at the Universidad de San Andrés in Argentina, agreed that confirmation bias plays a major role in how consumers approach falsehoods, but both presenters noted that fact-checking sometimes changes their minds.

Bode’s research tested responses to inaccurate information on Facebook and whether links to related stories and comments are effective in correcting users who believe misinformation. Among people that are less prone to believe conspiracies, seeing a headline from at least one reputable fact-checking source usually made them change their minds and believe the truth. But comments by other users contesting false claims without evidence did not have an effect.

“If you correct without sources, people don’t care at all,” Bode said. “If you are talking to your friends on Facebook who are posting, make sure you include a source.”

That corrective source for Argentinians is often Chequeado, the highly regarded fact-checking site, as Mitchelstein demonstrated with a survey of people who casually followed politics. Many respondents said people cherry-pick the data they want to believe from Chequeado, but there was still a consensus that the site plays an important role in Argentine politics.

“In Argentina, Chequeado is synonymous with fact-checking,” Mitchelstein said. “They became like the arbiter of truth, and I think it’s great thing.”

Although fact-checkers receive more attention during campaigns, many still struggle to drive traffic to their sites. Chris Blow from Meedan, which builds digital tools for journalism, provided recommendations for how fact-checkers can make articles more visually appealing and persuasive.

Blow lauded Animal Politico for its engaging graphics ratings statements via dog illustrations, inspired by the site’s name, “El Sabueso,” or “The Hound.” He also praised Africa Check and Les Observateurs, a French site, for showing clear ratings on their Twitter posts to make sure  readers knew the conclusions. Blow also critiqued posts from other publications that he said may bore or confuse readers due to too much text or a misleading placement of the rating.


Back to top

At GlobalFact 3, a call for transparency and impartial fact-checking

Now that fact-checking has matured, "we need to make sure that our work is rock solid."

By Bill Adair – June 9, 2016 | Print this article

My opening remarks at GlobalFact 3, the third annual meeting of the world’s fact-checkers, oragnized by Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network and the Reporters’ Lab, held June 9-10, 2016 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It’s amazing how our group has grown. Our latest tally in the Duke Reporters’ Lab is 105 active sites around the world, which is up more than 60 percent from last year.

We’ve also seen marvelous growth in international collaborations. Alexios has organized some impressive check-a-thons for economic summits and other events, uniting more than a dozen fact-checkers for a single event. And a few months ago, Africa Check joined PolitiFact for an unprecedented partnership to check claims about global health and development.

Our fact-checks are increasingly having an impact. Politicians cite them in speeches and campaign commercials. One organization recently emailed its senior staff reminding them about the new Africa Check-PolitiFact project, cautioning them to be accurate in their statements. In Ireland, attention generated by a Journal.ie fact-check halted a viral social media campaign to “name and shame” Irish parliamentarians for their purportedly low attendance at a debate on mental health services.

More than 100 people attended the conference, which was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
More than 100 people attended the conference, which was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Here in Argentina, Gabriella Michetti, vice-presidential candidate on the Macri ticket, was asked about a “Falso” she got from Chequeado. She replied, ”I saw that on Chequeado. Which is why we corrected ourselves and never repeated it.”

Our audiences are growing. In the United States, the three big fact-checkers are all reporting record-breaking traffic. A debate article by FactCheck.org got more than 1.8 million page views on the site and partners such as MSN.com.

In the United States, we have a presidential candidate named Donald Trump — perhaps you have heard of him — who has shown why fact-checking is so important. Some pundits have said his disregard for facts shows we live in a “post-fact” era when facts no longer matter. But I think it shows a more positive story: we know about Donald Trump’s falsehoods because of the tremendous work of a growing army of fact-checkers.

We’ve reached a point where fact-checking is no longer a novelty. It’s no longer something that we have to explain to the people we’re checking. It’s now a mature form of journalism — and an expected part of how news organizations cover political campaigns and government.

But now that fact-checking has matured, it’s time to make sure we push our journalism to the next level. To maintain our status as trusted sources, we need to make sure that our work is rock solid. Our fact-checks must be thoroughly researched using the most independent sources available. Our writing needs to be clear and concise.

We need to show that we do not play favorites. We need to be impartial and apply the same standards to everyone we check. And we need to check everyone.  As Rem Rieder wrote in USA Today in a column this week that mentioned our meeting, for fact-checking to work, “it has to be an equal opportunity endeavor, strictly nonpartisan.”

In the past year,  the students and colleagues who maintain our fact-checking database have come across a couple of sites that primarily check one party in their political system. That’s not fact-checking; that’s advocacy. To be a reputable fact-checker, you must check all the players in your political systems.

Fact-checkers also need to be transparent in our work. We need to explain how we choose statements to check and how our ratings work. We need to reveal our sources and be clear how we reached our conclusions.

We also need to be transparent about the funding and structure of our organizations. We need to explain who gives us money and reassure our readers and consumers that we are not political activists.

We also need to continue to expand our audiences. I continue to be surprised by the relatively limited use of fact-checking on television. We should seek more partnerships with TV networks and show them that the fact-checking makes great TV. You will love hearing from our keynote speaker, Natalia Hernández Rojo, who does some of the best TV fact-checks in the world for La Sexta’s El Objetivo in Spain. We can all learn a lot from Natalia.

Finally, I want to conclude with a suggestion. In catching up with many of you in the past couple of days I have realized that I have not done enough to follow your work. So I’m going to set a new goal to read one fact-check every day. I’ll randomly choose a site from our Reporters’ Lab database and read the most recent one.

I encourage you to do the same thing — a fact-check a day. It’s a new way that we can continue to build our community. By reading each other’s work, we can learn about each other and improve our work.

It’s a wonderful time to be in our movement. Fact-checking keeps growing and it has become a powerful force that informs democracies around the world. We need to maintain that momentum and make sure that our work is the best it can be.

Back to top

Students selected for research work at Duke Reporters’ Lab

Eight undergraduates will assist with news experiments and help explore the future of journalism.

By Mark Stencel – September 14, 2015 | Print this article

Student researchers play leading roles at the Duke Reporters’ Lab, experimenting with new forms of storytelling and exploring the state of newsroom innovation.

With the start of a new academic year, a team of eight students are donning white lab coats to help us map the future of journalism. Their involvement is one of the things that makes the Lab such a lively place (especially for this Duke newcomer).

These students will investigate ways to create new “structured” story forms that allow journalists to present information in engaging, digital-friendly ways. They also will track and help foster the work of political fact-checkers that are holding politicians around the world accountable for their statements and their promises.

We’ve just completed hiring our 2015-2016 team:

Natalie Ritchie: Over the summer, Natalie was a reporter for Structured Stories NYC — the Reporters’ Lab effort to test a new storytelling tool in the wilds of New York politics. She is co-editor in chief of the Duke Political Review. A public policy senior with a focus on international affairs, Natalie previously interned with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, worked as a student communications assistant for the Duke Global Health Institute, and taught English to Iraqi, Palestinian, and Syrian refugees in Jordan. In addition, she interned for Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, her home state.

Ryan Hoerger: The sports editor of The Chronicle, Duke’s student newspaper, is a senior from California double-majoring in public policy and economics. Last summer Ryan covered financial markets as an intern for Bloomberg. Before that, he interned for Duke magazine and conducted policy research during a summer stint at FasterCures. He is currently finishing up an undergraduate honors thesis that examines federal incentives for pharmaceutical research and development.

Shannon Beckham: Shannon, a public policy senior from Arizona, has seen how political fact-checking works from both sides of the process, having interned in the White House speechwriting office and at PolitiFact, the Pulitzer-winning service run by the Tampa Bay Times. She worked for the Chequeado fact-checking site in Buenos Aires, where she assisted with a 2014 meeting of Latin American fact-checkers. At the Reporters Lab, she helped start our database of fact-checking sites and organize the first Global Fact-Checking Summit last year in London.

Gautam Hathi: A junior in computer science who grew up near the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash., Gautam is already working at the intersection of news and technology. Having interned for Google and 3Sharp, the computer science major is now the digital content director for The Chronicle at Duke. He previously was The Chronicle’s health and science editor and is a contributing editor for the Duke Political Review.

Shaker Samman: Shaker is a public policy junior from Michigan. At the Reporters’ Lab, he worked on fact-checking and structured journalism prototypes and co-authored a PolitifFact story on the North Carolina Senate race with Lab co-director Bill Adair. He has interned as a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times in Florida and The Times Herald in Port Huron, Mich., where he also worked on his high school radio station.

Claire Ballentine: Claire is head of the university news department at The Chronicle. She began working for the Lab last year, helping update our database of political fact-checkers. The sophomore from Tennessee also has blogged for Her Campus and worked as an editing intern for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Association. She was the editor-in-chief of her high school yearbook.

Jillian Apel: Jill brings an eye for visual storytelling to the Lab. A sophomore from California with a passion for writing as well, she was the managing editor of the student newspaper at the Brentwood School in Los Angeles.

Julia Donheiser: Julia’s data savvy comes via a social science research project she started as a student at the Bronx High School of Science. With guidance from a pair of educational psychologists, she crunched statewide numbers from school districts across New York to investigate the effects of various social factors on diagnosis rates for autism and learning disabilities. Now a freshman at Duke, she worked on the student newspaper at her high school. She also wrote a food blog that will make you hungry.

Back to top

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.

Back to top

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.

Back to top

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.”
Back to top