The Conversation latest publisher to launch fact checking service

Independent news and analysis website The Conversation has launched fact checking website Election FactCheck, to be edited by former Sunday Age editor Gay Alcorn.

The move by The Conversation sees it join the ranks of Politifact and the ABC, which is about to launch its own fact checking unit, in launching specialist units or website designed to check the statements of politicians and other senior people in the public debate.

Alcorn is the latest former senior Age staffer to join The Conversation, which was founded by former editor-in-chief of The Age Andrew Jaspan. Michelle Grattam formerly political editor of The Age now writes for the site. The Conversation is mainly funded through Australia’s universities.

“Obviously there are now three sites, which is quite a lot really, but I think what The Conversation offers is a very different methodology,” said Alcorn, citing The Conversation’s decision to use an academic peer review methodology in its fact checking.

“We are using academics who have subject expertise to do our checks and then we have a second blind review to do a check on their finding,” she told Mumbrella. “We are trying to do fact checks in areas where we believe academics can add value.”

“The others are using journalists which is good and a proven method but our approach is different.”

Jaspan, executive director and editor of The Conversation said he didn’t believe ElectionFactCheck should try and emulate other sites like Politifact.

“There is no point repeating what others do – ours is using a different methodology,” Jaspan told Mumbrella “It’s quite different to what Politifact does and what the ABC does but that’s not to say the other two are deficient it’s just that we’re different.”

However, Jaspan also took aim at his rivals’ presentation, telling Mumbrella: “We decided we decided we didn’t want to go for smiley faces, thumbs up or ‘pants on fire’, ways of representing verdicts.”

“The reason is that most things are more nuanced than black and white. Some people have ‘mostly true’ or ‘mostly false’ actually mean? They are just arbitrary categories that people impose on these things.”

Both Jaspan and Alcorn say ElectionFactCheck’s main point of difference is only using specialists who have an expertise on the subject they are examining.

Alcorn said she hopes the short term project, which will be run up until the election, will also be used on other websites.

“Under The Conversation’s Creative Commons we’re hoping other sites will run the ElectionFactCheck as well,” she said.

“It’s a service for the academics to get out of their ivory towers and contribute to the public debate.”



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