It is no secret that journalism outlets around the globe are struggling to cope with the Internet’s disruption of the advertising industry. Ad revenue that once paid salaries in robust newsrooms now pours into the pockets of online platforms like Google and Facebook.
The Olympian and its sister papers are in no different situation than our cousins around the country. As with others, the shift to Internet commerce has led to steep news-staffing cuts that make it more challenging for journalists to check the truthfulness of claims by politicians and candidates.
But we are not giving up at The Olympian. Rather we are looking for ways to bolster our work with help from reliable organizations.
That is why we are teaming up with a Bellevue-based nonprofit called Verify More for the 2018 election cycle that kicks off Monday in Washington state with candidate filing week. Verify More will act as a clearinghouse, paying Ohio-based Sterling Talent Solutions to check the background of candidates who run for office.
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Why do it? Frankly small daily newspapers lack the staffing to do the kind of early-cycle reporting on candidates that once was routine during campaigns. The days when The Olympian’s had its own political reporting team at the state Capitol are gone, and we now share a single statehouse reporter with our sister paper, The News Tribune.
Our Opinion page staff has also shrunk. It employs a half-time editorial writer, which leaves little precious time for detailed background checks.
But that is not the end of the story. Like our Tacoma counterparts, who enlisted Verify More’s help for their editorial page, we expect to leverage our resources and deploy them for the things readers expect us to do.
That means we will continue to ask probing questions during editorial-board interviews. We'll hold candidates accountable. And we'll help readers navigate the ballot and understand the larger issues at play.
Verify More takes it from there, using the national personnel-screening firm Sterling Talent Solutions to check candidates’ claims about college degrees, jobs, and military service and to check for criminal history.
This verification service won’t cost candidates a dime. Verify More is picking up the cost. The process for candidates is actually confidential, and the results Verify More receives are shared with the candidate – who then controls the decision whether to make it public or not.
If a candidate refuses to participate or share the background check, we’ll be asking why during endorsement interviews.
Though accepting outside help is hard to do in our business, we think it is essential today if it is also done smartly so that we retain our journalistic independence and integrity.
The Olympian is as independent as a news organization as ever. There is no other organization in position to maintain such an accountability role in Thurston County.
Our news pages are kept separate from the editorial page. And although we belong to the McClatchy Newspapers chain, we are local and independent, publishing our own Opinion page that has a local voice and vision for South Sound, our state and country.
The editorial board includes two community members of widely differing political views, an executive editor born in Tacoma who has lived in Olympia for more than 24 years, and an Olympia-born opinion writer who retains the last word.
Verify More is a nonprofit led by David Doud, a real estate broker and one-time Republican candidate for the Legislature. The organization is overseen by a bipartisan governing board that includes well-known Democratic political operative Ron Dotzauer, who founded Strategies 360, and Republican political consultant Alex Hays, an Olympia native who lives in Tacoma.
Verify More charges fees to political parties, campaigns and interest groups that use its services to check out candidates that seek their endorsements or help.
Doud says he knows from his own campaigns that news groups struggle to do the kind of fact-checks of candidates needed, so he’s using fund-raising events to cover or subsidize the background-checking costs for The Olympian and News Tribune and any other publications that join in.
The American experience has always been a political experiment in democracy. But clearly, ferreting out the truth is both harder and more important than ever.