PolitiFact: Would you like fries with that? | WisCommunity

PolitiFact: Would you like fries with that?

The expansion of PolitiFact into a dozen states, including Wisconsin, unfortunately, is highlighted in a long American Journalism Review piece. It seemed surprisingly positive, given it's disappointing and sometimes laughable performance in Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel during the last election cycle, which tended to nitpick tiny items and ignore the big ones, while offering up extremely subjective judgments.

But I had skipped over the byline. It turns out the author is one Cary Spivak of the Journal Sentinel, who quotes his boss, Editor Marty Kaiser, about how great PolitiFact is. Spivak does give some examples of PolitiFact silliness and quotes some critics, but in general the fact check franchise sounds like the greatest thing since pockets on shirts.

And it is a franchise operation, Spivak points out:

For help in designing a game plan for expansion, [St. Petersburg Times' Washington, D.C., bureau chief and editor of PolitiFact Bill] Adair looked at two successful franchise operations: McDonald's and Subway. "They had a lot of good lessons," Adair says. "Both places rely heavily on training manuals and standardized procedures. Both do lots and lots of training, periodic quality control."

Adair keeps a close watch on what the local operations are producing. In one case, he says, a reporter who was not meeting PolitiFact standards was reassigned after Adair questioned the reporter's work. "We license our brand and our methods to our partners, and they agree to follow our methods," Adair says. "They are required to follow our standards for journalism."

If you get a McDonald's or Subway franchise, you know the corporate people are going to come and inspect your sandwiches.

But if everything the Journal Sentinel PolitiFact team has produced is up to those journalism standards, the bar is set awfully low.

Hat tip: Jim Romenesko


December 2, 2010 - 8:34pm