Australian fact-checking upstart PolitiFact is seeking a desperate cash injection to keep it afloat after interim deals with the Seven Network and Fairfax Media ceased in the aftermath of the federal election.
PolitiFact Australia editor-in-chief and former Sydney Morning Herald kingpin Peter Fray confirmed to Crikey he was in a process of negotiating new deals but that no agreement had yet been reached. Several sources claim the site is on life support and will die without a serious tranche of fresh liquidity.
“Are we flush with cash right now? No we’re not. We always knew we were going to be in this position after the election. We’re looking to our original funding partners but also to other sources of income,” Fray said.
“Everyone loves a death story but reports of our demise are greatly exaggerated. We’ve been very open and transparent about where we’re at.”
During the election campaign, PolitiFact contributed regular stories in a five-week arrangement with Fairfax Media publications The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age and also maintained a broadcast tie-up with Seven with solid support from 6pm scoop king Mark Riley. But it has faced frenzied competition from the ABC’s internal fact checking unit and The Conversation‘s academic-led effort.
PolitiFact distributed a survey to readers on its official mailing list last week asking whether they would be prepared to crowdfund the site’s operations, among other questions on content and strategy.
The site has launched new initiatives including the “Abbott-o-Meter” mirrored on the “Obameter” run by its US parent. It is also planning to focus on next year’s run of state elections. Fray says he’s also mulling possible expansions into India and New Zealand.
“I think ideally it would be great to have Channel Seven on board with the Abbott-o-Meter. But they haven’t committed to anything yet. It’s true to say the elections concentrated everyone’s mind, and it’s now about working out what it looks like going forward for them,” Fray said.
After an inauspicious beginning that appeared to misconstrue a Labor statement about the “stripping away” of workplace rights and an amusing detour into Jamie Briggs’ statements about gold-plated coffee machines, the site arguably hit its straps during and after the campaign with memorable items like an evisceration of Clive Palmer’s conspiracy theories.
Fray told Crikey he’s looking to a range of partners for potential support. He says unlike the ABC or The Conversation, he doesn’t have the benefit of taxpayer subsidies. PolitiFact Australia has not received money from its Pulitzer Prize-winning US mothership, and instead been reliant on personal pledges from himself and managing director Ben Ashton in addition to the media deals during the campaign.
Fray says senior reporter David Humphries and reporter Ellie Harvey have recently upped sticks but the other in-house staff would remain at their desks and are eager to keep applying the blowtorch to the Abbott government.