PolitiFact seeks donations for State of the Union live-fact-checking operation

2011 State of the Union by President Barack Obama

Photo via Chuck Kennedy (Executive Office of the President of the United States)/Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)

Is crowdfunded fact-checking the future of journalism?

Since 2007 PolitiFact, a division of the Tampa Bay Times, has scrutinized the comments of politicians and prominent media figures, deploying its signature “Truth-O-Meter” to let readers know whether a particular claim is true, “pants on fire,” or somewhere in between. Now, the Pulitzer Prize–winning fact-checker is looking to do something fresh for its coverage of President Barack Obama‘s Jan. 20 State of the Union address to Congress. To pull it off, they’re asking for reader help.

On Dec. 31, PolitiFact announced the creation of a Kickstarter campaign to raise $15,000 for an operation to fact-check President Obama’s address and the Republican response in real time. At press time, the Kickstarter had raised over $12,000. With 11 days left in the campaign, it seems likely to surpass its original goal.

“[In the past] we’ve focused most of our live fact checking efforts on debates,” PolitiFact editor Angie Holan told the Daily Dot in a recent interview. “On debate night we would watch the debates and use Twitter, [and] we were just thinking that we could cover the State of the Union that way and explore some new tech tools to do it.”

For those wondering how the $15,000 will be spent, the Kickstarter has a list of objectives, which include funding the staff of 10 journalists around the clock until Obama’s speech and the Republican response are fully vetted, live-blogging and annotation technology, and the cost of Kickstarter fees and rewards.

PolitiFact is not immune to the broader obstacles facing all journalistic institutions. Its Kickstarter informs readers that the organization has “been subsidized by [the Tampa Bay Times] for years but are looking for ways to expand our financial support.”

Should the Kickstarter prove to be a success, Holan says PolitiFact will be “very likely to come back and try another.”

Live fact-checking of events also raises concerns about the balance between speed and accuracy for an organization that prides itself on setting the record straight. When asked about this balance and the impetus for live-fact-checking an event like the State of the Union, Holan said, “People want good, accurate, thorough information, but they also want it at the moment that they’re interested in it. We feel a responsibility to be accurate first, but timely second.”

PolitiFact is not expecting too many major surprises during the State of the Union, given the careful vetting and preparation that goes into a speech of this nature. Instead, Holan believes PolitiFact’s coverage will be most useful in providing the proper context for claims made by both sides.

After the speeches have concluded, PolitiFact will annotate them line by line, offering readers context for the politicians’ statements. Anyone who donates at least $10 to the Kickstarter campaign will receive an annotated copy of both speeches by 5am EST on Jan. 21.

Photo via Chuck Kennedy (Executive Office of the President of the United States)/Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)

Alex La Ferla

Alex La Ferla

Alex La Ferla is a writer, artist, and architect living and working in New York City. His work for the Daily Dot focused on internet culture.