Monday, May 28, 2018
Perspective

Support PolitiFact: Join the Truth Squad

When I talk to people about how they get their news these days, I hear the same things over and over: There's so much going on in the world. It's really hard to keep up. I'm not sure what's true and what's not.

We created PolitiFact to help with that. It's been almost 10 years since the Tampa Bay Times launched our unique fact-checking website. Today we have more than 13,000 fact-checks in our online database, all aimed at helping people sort out the truth in a complex world.

And yet, I always get the feeling that we could do more. We want to grow.

Today, we're asking you, our readers, for a new kind of support to help us achieve that. We're launching a project that we hope will be a steady source of long-term funding for PolitiFact: a membership program called the Truth Squad.

The Truth Squad is an effort to rally supporters of fact-check journalism to contribute modest dollars regularly, and in return gain more direct contact and personal involvement with our PolitiFact efforts.

We need your support because the chaos in the information market has meant PolitiFact has been busier — and more important — than ever.

As soon as the 2016 election was over, we partnered with Facebook to fact-check the proliferation of fake news on its platform, alerting users when headlines are totally fabricated in order to get clicks.

We concluded our tracking of President Barack Obama's campaign promises, rating 533 promises either Promise Kept, Compromise or Broken on our Obameter.

And we've launched the Trump-O-Meter, a database of President Donald J. Trump's campaign promises, to track his pledges on things like building a wall and leaving Medicare alone.

Not everyone agrees with our work and our rulings, but we always show our sources so that our audience can debate the stories for themselves. After so many fact-checks of all sides of the political debate, we've taken our share of criticism from pundits and politicians.

But ultimately the mission is to give you the power to decide for yourself, rather than rely on the partisans, and so many have told us how much they appreciate that.

What's more, you've been our first line of eyes and ears, tipping us off to possible falsehoods (keep them coming at [email protected]). You've defended our work on social media without us asking. You've written us checks unsolicited. You sent us emails and told us to keep fighting for the truth.

Now we want to formalize that relationship. We're asking readers to contribute to us directly through this Truth Squad membership program, found at membership.politifact.com.

Just as we've innovated in journalism, we're also looking for innovation in our business model. Up to now, our funding has come from the newspaper, our digital advertising sales, grants and the occasional online fundraising appeal. Now we're adding direct reader support to the mix.

That's a strategy other news organizations are pursuing as well. Recently, the New York Times released an innovation report on new forms of journalism and new business strategies to support that journalism. Its emphasis was on reader subscriptions.

Here at PolitiFact, we've never charged for content, and we want our site to remain free and open. But we also want readers who find us valuable to have a way to give to us directly.

Membership campaigns have been around a long time; NPR's been doing it for years. But this campaign took some doing. As a website housed at a newspaper, we had no infrastructure for seeking contributions. We're not a nonprofit (though our owner, the Poynter Institute, is a nonprofit), so contributions are not tax deductible. We're a unique organization, and our membership program reflects that.

We've been working with a group of nonprofit news organizations, led by Voice of San Diego, for several months to build the look and feel of the Truth Squad. You can donate once, once a month or once a year. Members get access to special perks like a members-only Facebook group, virtual coffees with the PolitiFact staff and possibly a color-changing Pants on Fire mug.

We hope reader contributions will help us as we work to find a financially sustainable model for public accountability journalism in the 21st century. This is a challenge that news organizations around the country are facing, due to the historic shift from a print-only world to a mix of online media. News organizations are looking for new combinations of advertising and reader support to fund journalism that people can depend on.

PolitiFact has one mission, to give people the information they need to govern themselves in a democracy. We want to make credible, accurate information about the world of politics as widely available as possible. We want people to feel that they have a place to go to when they want to sort out fact from fiction. And in a time that seems more partisan than ever, we remain committed to an independent outlook.

Our independence is incredibly valuable to us, and we don't let anyone — not politicians, not grant-making groups, not anyone — tell us what to fact-check or what our Truth-O-Meter rulings should be. At PolitiFact, those decisions are made solely by journalists. With your help, they always will be.

Contact Angie Drobnic Holan at [email protected] Follow @angieholan.

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