PolitiFact Australia, the nation’s first stand alone fact-checking website, started with a tweet, from me to Bill Adair, the founder of PolitiFact in Washington.
Here it is:
That was in late 2012, check me out Bill did and it would be very tempting to say, the rest is history. It is certainly true that from small tweets big twees grow, if you pardon the language mangle.
More importantly, in 2013, a federal election year, fact-checking came of age in Australia thanks to Bill Adair and PolitiFact.
From our launch in late March to September, election month, we fact-checked 227 political statements. rating them from True to Mostly True through to Half True, Mostly False and False — and for very special examples of the political art, Pants on Fire.
PolitiFact Australia, proudly independent of any existing media company, employed up to eight journalists plus two researchers and interns.
Eternal thanks then to fact-checkers David Humphries, Ellie Harvey, Chris Pash, Flynn Murphy, Michael Koziol, Su-Lin Tan, Jonathan Pearlman, Alix Piatek and Jennifer Cooke.
A special mention to Ben Ashton, who brought business smarts and contacts to the outfit, Peter Martin, Fairfax economics writer who fact-checked the final, frantic weeks of the election campaign and numerous ‘friends’ of PolitiFact, especially John Croll and the team at media company iSentia, Channel 7 news director Rob Raschke, news legend Peter Meakin, artist Rocco Fazzari, photographer Wade Laube, economist Richard Holden, Michael Priddis, Steven Maras, John Keane, Jackie Findlater, Michael Pelly and Tony Falkner.
PolitiFact created jobs, together we made a splash.
We were a new web-based method of political accountability; we were digital in iteration but very old school in intent: we wanted to keep the bastards honest.
The question was, and is, how to make it pay. Bill Adair, who started PolitiFact out of Washington eight years ago for the Florida-based, Tampa Bay Times, has a standard joke, that PolitiFact is funded by charging $1 every time a child calls another ‘liar, liar, pants on fire’. If only it were that simple.
Fortunately, and thanks to some deft work by Ben Ashton, my co-conspirator in PolitiFact, we had two paying content partners, commercial TV broadcaster Channel 7, and for the last month of the campaign, Fairfax Media. For Channel 7 we did ‘live’ fact-checks, up to three times a day. Fairfax had online and print rights and seconded Peter Martin to the operation.
Between 7 and Fairfax, the generosity iSentia, who provided office space, and in the early stages, my own bank balance, PolitiFact stayed afloat until December 2013.
Ben Ashton and I tried to raise interest in other -Fact services, such healthFact, movieFact, punditFact, pitching the concept that like the morning radio traffic report, we would become the go-to place for timely facts.
We also tried to spread PolitiFact to other states and countries. I travelled to New Zealand, talking to both main media companies, and had a couple of bright conversations with potential partners or funders in the UK and India.
But either we had the wrong pitch or the wrong idea because polite and supportive as many people were, we failed to open wallets.
PolitiFact 2013 had cost approximately $350,000.
But it was worth it.
By September 2013 the site was attracting 1.5m UV a month — and politicians were citing our fact-checks against each other. Heaven.
PolitiFact’s fact-checks are archived by the National Library of Australia.
PolitiFact taught me many things, too many to go into here.
Right now, in mid 2015, I remain convinced there is a need for independent fact-checking in the next Federal election due in 2016.
I have recently re-made the home page to be friendly to mobile devices and, more importantly, new revenue avenues, such as branded or sponsored content from think tanks and lobbyists in the ‘ideas’ space. Obviously PolitiFact would remain independent; it would not endorse any one political view.
Crowd funding might also work.