Politics & Government

We’re expanding our fact-checking in partnership with PolitiFact, Duke and UNC

As the 2018 midterm elections draw closer, The News & Observer is expanding the fact-checking efforts it began in the leadup to the 2016 elections with PolitiFact NC.

A $50,000 grant from the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund will help create a partnership between the three McClatchy newspapers in North Carolina and student-journalists and professors from Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill. The grant was announced Wednesday morning.

Another partnership, announced last month, will team up the N&O with the International Center for Journalists, which plans to devote one of its TruthBuzz fellows to promote fact-checking all around the state.

“We’re grateful to be working with wonderful partners at Duke, UNC, the NC Local News Lab Fund and ICFJ,” News & Observer Executive Editor Robyn Tomlin said. “This exciting collaboration will support our efforts to build a foundation of facts that support a healthy democracy here in North Carolina.”

McClatchy is the parent company of The N&O, The Herald-Sun of Durham and The Charlotte Observer.

In the past two years, PolitiFact NC — a partnership staffed by a single News & Observer reporter and managed by editors at both The N&O and the Pulitzer Prize-winning website PolitiFact — has fact-checked politicians making claims about everything from voter fraud and tax cuts to pork in the state budget and the political leanings of mass-shooting perpetrators.

PolitiFact is known for its “Truth-O-Meter” graphics system that rates claims on a six-step scale ranging from True to Pants On Fire. Its extensive reporting process takes longer than most traditional news stories to report and write, since it places a premium not on quoting politicians but rather on seeking out experts, documents and other unbiased sources to find out whether a politician is telling the truth about something.

Learn more about PolitiFact and its process here.

The main focus of PolitiFact NC in the past two years has been on the highest-profile politicians in the Tar Heel state, like Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican Sen. Richard Burr.

This new grant announced Tuesday will help expand its scope to include less well-known politicians, like those in the state legislature who represent only parts of the state. It will also focus more on politicians in rural areas — where journalism resources have been steadily shrinking for years now.

“The North Carolina Fact-Checking Project will put special emphasis on claims by politicians in rural parts of the state,” a press release announcing the project said. “Students in the (Duke) Reporters’ Lab will scour news coverage and campaign ads for factual claims made by state, local and congressional candidates. The Lab will build new versions of its Tech & Check Alerts that use automated bots to find statements by politicians in social media that could be of interest to the North Carolina fact-checkers.”

The N&O will hire a second fact-checker as part of the project. A UNC student intern will round out the fact-checking team.

The project will encourage other news outlets in North Carolina to publish its work, and will hold outreach events around the state to promote fact-checking.

To suggest a claim for fact-checking, or to contact the PolitiFact NC team for any other reason, email aspecht@newsobserver.com or truthometer@politifact.com, or reach out on Twitter to @PolitiFactNC.

Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran