Political fact-checking website finds first pubmedia partner in California

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A first-of-its-kind partnership will bring analysis from the website PolitiFact to public radio when Capital Public Radio in Sacramento, Calif., launches PolitiFact California this summer.

“So often in our reporting we would encounter statements [from government officials and say] . . . it would be great to do a thorough fact-check of that statement,” said Joe Barr, director of news and information for Capital Public Radio. But “we don’t have the resources,” he said.

That will change when Capital Public Radio hires its first full-time PolitiFact reporter, who will work in the station’s newsroom and receive training from PolitiFact in its fact-checking procedures. Other CPR staffers will also get the training.

Launched by the Tampa Bay Times in 2007, PolitiFact evaluates claims made by elected officials, candidates, leaders of political parties and political activists. According to PolitiFact’s website, it focuses on claims that are the “most newsworthy and significant” and that deal with verifiable facts. Its reporters use on-the-record sources to determine the truth of claims.

PolitiFact is known for its Truth-O-Meter, which tells readers whether a political statement is true, mostly true, a half-truth, mostly false, false or “pants on fire” (for false claims accompanied by “ridiculous” claims).

“PolitiFact is a way to take our reporting to the next level,” Barr said. “We see it as a natural extension of what we’re doing.”

CPR is operating the PolitiFact extension “like a franchise operation,” Barr said. The radio station owns PolitiFact California and pays PolitiFact for the rights to use the website’s name. PolitiFact California and PolitiFact’s national site will share content.

PolitiFact has partnered with seven newspapers. This is its first public media outlet.

“We have a lot of respect for how public radio does journalism,” PolitiFact Editor Angie Drobnic Holan said. “It’s substantive, it’s not superficial.”

“Capital Public Radio has been doing some interesting coverage of topics we cover already,” she said, pointing to the broadcaster’s California Burning, a multimedia project examining how Californians are dealing with the threat of wildfires in the state, as an example. “They have this great track record of doing good journalism.”

CPR has yet to determine how it will extend its journalism into PolitiFact-style reporting for radio. The station’s PolitiFact reporter will start with “low-hanging fruits,” such as appearing on the station’s talk shows and other public radio stations throughout the state. The reporter might also deliver segments that could air within local broadcasts of All Things Considered or Morning Edition. “We’re still figuring out what they’ll sound like,” Barr said.

“How can we turn this into great radio? That’s our big question,” he said. “We’re going to be doing everything we can to answer that.”

Capital Public Radio is drawing on existing funds to start PolitiFact California and will seek grants and underwriting support. The budget for the project’s first year is about $100,000.

PolitiFact is also looking into working with other public radio stations. “I’m hoping that California will be a model for other partnerships,” Holan said.

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