SMPA, Google join forces to thwart political spin

The School of Media and Public Affairs will partner with Google to ensure the average Americans have their facts straight in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election.

The project, called Face the Facts USA, will employ staff from the school’s Center for Innovative Media and Google, along with a line-up of media companies to present information on political issues in more understandable and visually compelling way than traditional press. The efforts will kick off July 28 – about 100 days before the presidential election – and continue into 2013.

“I have long felt that we need more creative ways to engage [in] more serious conversation,” SMPA Director Frank Sesno, the project’s creator, said. “We want to try to…infuse the conversation with facts – transformative facts, interesting facts that can shed light on the issues that people have to know about if they’re going to be informed citizens and voters.”

One fact each day will be blasted out via social media and broadcast on the project’s website using images or videos about key issues like national debt, unemployment, infrastructure, health care and foreign policy.

Google will feature the daily facts on its news site and promote the project through its social network Google Plus. Atlantic Media, the company that owns The Atlantic magazine, will also serve as a partner and design the website.

Sesno’s vision for the project came to life after meeting entrepreneur and philanthropist Ed Scott, co-founder of the D.C.-based think tank Center for Global Development, who committed a large donation to get the project off the ground. Sesno declined to disclose the size of that donation, but said the project would look to raise about $3 to $4 million total.

A team of 13 editors, producers and researchers – including six undergraduate and graduate student researchers from the school – met for the second editorial meeting Wednesday to go over the research behind the project with Face the Facts executive director Tom Farmer, a former CNN executive producer who worked with Sesno at the television network.

The challenge of the effort, Farmer said, will be presenting information that not only captures Internet buzz, but also sticks with voters as they snuff out campaign talking points from President Barack Obama and likely Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

“We want to create an environment where smart people can get together and do better and do wonderful things,” Farmer said. “We’re giving them the information, the tools, the mechanisms to connect with each other, to demand better of their elected leaders, to assess the rhetoric that flows through the air and move the country in a different direction.”

Farmer said the project will not try to cram itself into a crowded marketplace of fact-checking and digital media organizations like FactCheck.org or ProPublica, but will instead carve out its own place in the market of information with a blitz of social media.

“We’re reaching beyond the elites who use [FactCheck.org] as a standard browser button,” Farmer said. “Hopefully regular human beings who are part of the frustrated middle – part of the misery of the White House rhetoric on both sides but have an appetite for something like this.”

Cory Weinberg contributed to this report.

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