local media insider

The case for local media to become the fact-checkers in their communities

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Is your news organization simply parroting information too local that no other outlet has bothered with it?

It might be time to reconsider how to reposition the news brand as the political "truth-tester" in your community.

Typically, we don't talk about editorial coverage on this site; there are too many free and better sources such as the excellent Poynter.org for this information.

But the sheer cacophony of nightly punditry, viral e-mail and carpet-bombing of the airwaves by political advertising during campaign season has combined to create a new space that local media can and should fill. More local media are evolving toward "truth-testing" what is already out there as a critical mission.

Having the brand as "professional journalists" is a start - I would argue that every local media site should publish its set of minimum standards for reporters on its site, with numerous access links to help educate the public.

But it is still easy for anyone with a tape recorder to compete online as Bill Day's column (below) demonstrates.

The value of being the "trusted source" for news needs to extend itself in ways that keep pace with the explosion of voices online.

Pioneered by Factcheck.org, a simple double-check of what is being reported and circulated is a vital service.

“Every newspaper around should be embarrassed that we exist,” Brooks Jackson, Director of FactCheck.org told me last week. “Why should a Washington think tank be doing this?”

It's easy to get started by leveraging what already exists: articles from Fact Check.org are available free via RSS feed. The Pulitzer-prize winning PolitiFact.com (best-known for its "truth-o-meter") has also started partnering with some local media sites.

However, in a major election season like 2012, FactCheck.org will not cover local campaigns, choosing to focus its resources on the presidential race.

How different would traditional local media be perceived and utilized if most had full-time political ad and fact-checkers by then?

What if reporters also covered facts mentioned in viral e-mails and roto-dialers? Or a text alert service for untruths that were outed?

While there has been an explosion of demand for broadcast programming that mirrors and confirms viewers' own prejudices; there is also a growing frustration with feeling duped by false or exaggerated reporting, and unable to tell the difference between them.

The kind of sparse journalism pioneered by Factcheck.org has a unique style; it does not chide, spank, scold or demonize whoever has bent, obscured or reversed the facts of the situation. There is a minimal editorialization, and both sides of a debate are subject to criticism.

Local media can become the truth cops in their political communities, instead of merely outlets for propoganda.

One way to get in the game for 2012, is to begin putting political news and statements up to a “truth test." A cheap way to cover political ads is to hire an intern to reverse TIVO, by fast-forwarding through news and public affairs shows, capturing commercials, to give to the reporters.

A more expensive route during election season is to use Kantar Media, a service which will pull-out the political ads, (and also all kinds of radio and broadcast leads for advertising).

Besides providing a public service, campaign ads and their critics are fun to watch and create compelling narratives. If your organization has a fact-checking news service, please send an email to alisacromer@gmail.com and we will include it on this site.

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