1. Make sure you've done enough reporting before operating your Truth-O-Meter.
2. Always call or e-mail the person or campaign that made the claim and ask them for the facts to back it up.
3. Seek independent sources to verify or debunk the claim.
4. Write clearly.
5. Don't take politics too seriously.
6. Don't take your Truth-O-Meter near water, and always unplug it during electrical storms.
When PolitiFact won the Pulitzer last summer, the New York Times' Interactive Newsroom Technologies editor Aron Pilhofer wrote that the prize was a watershed moment in journalism akin to the Journal-Constitution's Pulitzer in 1989 for its series on redlining, "The Color of Money."
The Journal-Constitution used computers to unearth some of its central findings. And in the aftermath of the series, most major newspapers devoted at least one staffer to the transformative art of "computer-assisted reporting."
PolitiFact's prize, he suggested, could wake up the American media to another game-changer: "As of today," Pilhofer wrote, "newsrooms have to take web journalism seriously."
"Web journalism" can mean many things, of course. But one of the most striking, as Pilhofer noted, is the shift in form: PolitiFact is not narrative, it is verification and analysis rendered in charts and brief, pithy prose.
There is, of course, an argument to be made that a graphics-heavy, "pants on fire" journalism is a dumbing down. And that concern is a particularly sensitive one in Rhode Island, given that the ProJo's once-proud tradition of lengthy and unorthodox narrative has sharply receded in the last decade or so.
But the media landscape has taken many a sharp turn in recent years. And while narrative is still an important endeavor, PolitiFact — for a paper struggling to keep up — is a worthy experiment.