Politifact on skeleton staff while seeking new funding

Peter Fray

Peter Fray

Australian fact-checking website Politifact has seen a series of major departures and is operating on a skeleton staff as it seeks an injection of funds to ensure the website’s survival.

Editor-in-chief Peter Fray, who founded the Australian site and largely funded its launch,  has told Mumbrella he has been talking with potential partners since funding dropped off in the wake of the Federal election.

As interim election partnerships with Fairfax Media and the Seven Network came to an end, Politifact was forced to cut staff and senior reporters such as Chris Pash, David Humphries, Michael Pelly and reporter Ellie Harvey have departed. The editorial team has been reduced from around 7 full time editorial staff to just three part-time reporters, as Fray searches for new sources of funding.

“We’ve got a great staff but people need some sort of income,” Fray said.

“Now we’ve got three reporters working part-time on the site, and I’m trying to help them get an income.”

However Fray argues the recent debate around politicians travel expenses highlights the importance of fact-checking and is appealing to various funding channels to support it.

If nothing is secured over the next few weeks, Fray says the website could “retire gracefully” when Parliament closes for the summer, and use the time to seek investment and launch new titles such as HealthFact, SportFact, FoodFact, or DrugFact to investigate claims in other areas.

Fray said Politifact’s popularity may surge once again as state election campaigns commence next year and Politifact could play a role ahead of the general election in New Zealand in December next year. Fray spoke to Mumbrella about plans to expand Politifact in September and recently visited the country to explore opportunities there.

Fray, a former editor-in-chief of the Sydney Morning Herald, launched Politifact Australia in May and has largely funded the site. And while many potential partners like the site, none have yet pledged a financial commitment, Fray said.

“Not all new media is a guaranteed success. Just because you are mad enough to be a journalist doesn’t mean people will pay you to be mad,” Fray said.

“We don’t have the budget the ABC does and tax payers funding, but we always thought this could be something that could be supported by private funding from media partners or investors.

“It’s as tough as ever, but I think I have proved that fact checking has a role to play.”

Despite the lack of financial support thus far, Fray sees the launch of titles such as The Global Mail, The Guardian, and The Conversation and The New Daily as a sign of a healthy industry.

The launches are also showing new funding models such as the superannuation funds behind the launch of the New Daily, or investors such as Morry Schwartz, launching The Saturday Paper next year, or Graeme Wood, who funded the launch of the Global Mail and The Guardian Australia. All present new ideas for funding Politifact, and Fray is open to various models, providing the website can retain its independence.

Megan Reynolds


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