Editor's note: PolitiFact has a 2016-2017 RJI Fellowship at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. Executive Director Aaron Sharockman is the project leader for the fellowship. 

In a week's time, Americans will finally elect their 45th President. PolitiFact, however, isn't waiting for Election Day to start work on a new feature that will track the promises of Barack Obama's successor.

The Obameter, PolitiFact's current "promise meter," will be retiring at the same time as its namesake. The new meter will build on the lessons of almost eight years of tracking promises at the fact-checking project of the (Poynter-owned) Tampa Bay Times.

"One thing we learned from the Obameter is that all promises are not created equal," says PolitiFact Executive Director Aaron Sharockman. Choosing to monitor more than 500 campaign promises meant the Obameter was time-consuming for readers to update and sometimes unwieldy for readers to consult.

Aaron Sharockman

The new promise-tracker will concentrate on 100-200 promises, while featuring an evolving list of five top promises more prominently. This list will be based on a continuous survey of readers and traffic statistics. Readers will also have the option to receive email notifications when an update is made to specific promises they choose to track.

"We want this to be a living record of the presidency, as opposed to a year in review," says Sharockman. 

Being able to do this will depend in part on how many resources the organization can assign to promise-tracking over the next four years. One solution the organization is considering is working with students at the University of Missouri (Mizzou's Reynolds Journalism Institute awarded PolitiFact a $20,000 grant to help build the new tracker).

The dragged-out nature of the American presidential election poses two additional challenges to promise-trackers. For one, there are innumerable settings where candidates can make promises to voters. PolitiFact's selection process looked at what the candidates vowed to do during their debates, at the conventions and other major speeches as well as what is on campaign websites.

The fact-checkers are trying to filter promises that have a wider reach and greater chance of influencing voting decisions. They are also evaluating whether a promise is part of a package that should be monitored as a whole.

Read the full post on Poynter.org 


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