The Birdy Politic: Fact-Checking the State of the Union in Real-Time

By John Capone Comment

Gone are the days when political junkies would have to wait for a speech to be over before talking heads could endlessly parse each word. The Huffington Post will provide real-time analysis and fact-checking of Barack Obama’s State of the Union address and the Republican rebuttal Tuesday night, and, with our incredible shrinking news cycle and the rise of participatory journalism, the approach only makes sense.

The HuffPost has teamed with The Sunlight Foundation (a nonpartisan watchdog group dedicated to making government more transparent), The Center For Public Integrity and National Journal to create a panel of experts (comprised of about 15-20 reporters and outside analysts) who’ll weigh in as President Barack Obama and the GOP’s Rep. Paul Ryan speak.

The journalists and policy wonks will focus in on national security, health reform, taxes, Afghanistan, Iraq and the economy, with the team composed of experts in the individual areas. In addition, people are encouraged to comment along and react using the hashtag #SOTUFacts.

The way this will work will be with discussion modules surrounding live steaming video on the HuffPost, breaking the screen into four quadrants. These modules will display graphics augmenting the fact-checking and illustrating facts, the live commentary from the group of experts, and a live Twitter feed of #SOTUFacts.

The intention of the effort is to “provide context about the speech and its response and the facts presented, dissecting them in real-time,” says Tim O’Brien, national editor, HuffingtonPost. Twitter is meant to be complimentary to the endeavor, a part of the discussion.

As we’ve seen a byproduct of the speed at which technology allows information to move is that at times journalistic precepts can be lost in the rush. The past couple of weeks have seen much hand ringing about news outlets inaccurately posting that Rep. Gabrielle had been killed in the Tuscan shooting two weeks ago. The misstep was a reminder of the pace of information in a Twitter-abetted media.

Misinformation can spread as fast (or faster) than can accountability.

“We’ve got people focused on the individual silos of information,” says O’Brien, “They’re going to weigh in on things that they have a deep base of information on, and are going comment when appropriate. But they are going to be reserved in terms of how often they’re commenting because they only want to weigh in if it’s valuable to the people watching the speech.”

What is exciting is that new tools have afforded the opportunity for a participatory discussion. Yes, there’s always the chance that snap judgments and instantaneous reactions can lower the level of thoughtful discourse, but these modes of communication are becoming the reality of how we interact with media. For many people, a lean-back viewing experience has given way to watching with a laptop open or an iPad on their lap, or while furiously swyping away on a smartphone.

Maybe when you check your Twitter stream during the speech Tuesday night you’ll see as much intelligent comment about healthcare and the economy as you saw “OMG”s during “Gossip Girl” Monday night.