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April 4, 2017, 12:46 p.m.
Audience & Social

Fact-checking has become completely entwined with partisan politics. “At a time of no trust in the media, why would the voter trust the [fact-checker] over the politician he or she supported?” Alexios Mantzarlis, director of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, asked in January at a fact-checking summit in Washington, D.C.

“We’re not reaching red America,” said Bill Adair, director of the Duke University Reporters’ Lab and creator of PolitiFact.

The event, hosted by the American Press Institute, Poynter Institute, and the Duke Reporters’ Lab, brought together “more than 70 participants, including fact-checkers and other journalists, researchers, educators, librarians, and representatives from foundations and technology companies,” to discuss how fact-checking can reach a wider audience. American Press Institute wrote up their discussions on Tuesday, and offered some suggestions and thoughts on how fact-checking can modernize, improve, and reach more readers.

“Instant and tense reactions”

Fact-checking in real time is hard, but it also stresses people out:

David Mikkelson, the publisher of, said readers can wonder how debunking can be produced so quickly after reaching the Internet. And, as Duke University’s Mark Stencel found, instantaneous fact checks during a tense debate can cause instant and tense reactions from partisan viewers.

One idea: “finding ways to incorporate fact checks into people’s regular news consumption behavior.”

“They just don’t believe you”

“It’s not that they haven’t heard you,” R. Kelly Garrett, a professor of communication at Ohio State University, told the group. “They just don’t believe you.”

Maybe fact-checkers should disclose where they stand politically: “The public may see transparency as knowing such things as whether reporters own guns or attend church regularly or give donations to interest groups,” the API notes. They might also want to “engage with subjects or readers who strongly disagree with their findings” (which sounds about as much fun as wading into the comments), “share with their audience information about why they’re checking claims,” and “monitor and explain the partisan breakdown of the sources of claims that they check.”

Reaching people with “trust issues”

From the report:

Even when fact checks reach a larger audience, that audience is skewed — geographically, with more readers on the coasts than in the South or heartland; and ideologically, with progressives more likely to engage. Readers who most engage with fact checks tend to be Democrats who already have above-average knowledge about politics, research indicates. “We’re doing a terrible job as a group, getting our information to the people who could most benefit from it,” said Rebecca Iannucci, a project manager at the Duke Reporters’ Lab who’s working on fact-checking studies and research.

Summit attendees identified two groups that fact-checkers need to do a better job of reaching: “younger, digitally savvy” people who want information in new formats, and people who “[consume] more news through older methods…and [are] harder to reach not because of platform preferences but because of trust issues.”

“An important tactic going forward will be finding ways to bring fact-checking to people in neutral packages,” said Tom Stites, founder and president of the Banyan Project.

New formats needed

Michelle Ye Hee Lee of The Washington Post noted that each Friday leading up to the 2016 election, she and her colleagues broadcast findings from the week on Facebook Live. And, she added, fact checks had among the highest engagement of any of the news organization’s offerings on Snapchat. These non-traditional tools were a way of presenting information where readers and viewers live, not waiting for them to navigate their way through a website.

Ronny Rojas, who leads fact-checking at Univision, said that the newsroom presented fact-checks with comics and got “40 to 50 percent more traffic than comics with regular text.” It’s expensive, though.

The full report is here.

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