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Fast Food & Fact-Checking: Lessons From PolitiFact

After the Tampa Bay Times won a Pulitzer Prize for PolitiFact, its groundbreaking fact-checking operation, other newspapers wanted to get in the game and start their own PolitiFact sites. Editor Bill Adair had to figure out how to scale a specialized, unique type of journalism to many newsrooms — without harming the Truth-O-Meter, the heart of the PolitiFact brand. Adair took some guidance from the fast-food industry, which has perfected how to make burgers and fries taste the same from St. Pete to Seattle. Adair will describe how he adapted techniques like secret tasters, in-depth training programs, and a build-a-burger approach to accountability journalism. Steve Myers, who has written extensively about PolitiFact and the emerging field of fact-checking journalism, will discuss how PolitiFact’s franchise approach addresses challenges of strained newsroom budgets and is a model for collaborative, distributed journalism.

Additional Supporting Materials


  1. How did PolitiFact expand from a three-person team at one newspaper to 35 staffers at 13 newspapers around the country, while maintaining its high-quality journalism?
  2. How did PolitiFact create standards that protect its brand but allow room for creativity and independence?
  3. How did PolitiFact adapt to a range of newsroom cultures, ownership structures and technological constraints?
  4. How did PolitiFact structure its partnerships so that state and national sites shared an online home, but each could monetize its own content?
  5. How can these lessons be applied to other high-intensity, creative endeavors?



Steve Myers, Managing editor, Poynter Online, Poynter Institute

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