The internet and mobile technology enable anyone to share information easily and quickly.
That includes bad information.
As executive director of Politifact, Aaron Sharockman, BAJ’03, oversees a team of fact-checkers who seek and correct misinformation.
“The idea that anyone can commit journalism is great, but sometimes that content can be misleading,” Sharockman said.
Sharockman was an IU junior when he interviewed for an internship at the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times — now the Tampa Bay Times — which later founded Politifact.
He still remembers telling Paul Tash, BA’76, Tampa Bay Times chairman and CEO, that he had fallen in love with writing about government and politics, but he couldn’t decide if he wanted to write about it or be in it.
Tash told Sharockman that writing about it would be much more interesting and fun.
“I found this job really, really rewarding,” Sharockman said. “I can’t imagine anything else.”
At IU, Sharockman, who’s originally from Pottsville, Pennsylvania, majored in journalism and political science.
At first, he thought he wanted to be a sports reporter.
“I think I quickly realized that I like watching sports and caring about it, but I want to keep being a fan,” Sharockman said.
He started to realize that politics work a lot like sports, and during his career as a reporter, Sharockman began to enjoy writing about the policy side of government and politics.
When it comes to his career, Sharockman said he got lucky.
He landed the St. Petersburg Times internship through IU’s Poynter Scholarship, and the Times hired him full-time after he graduated the next year. He wrote about government and politics until 2010, when he joined PolitiFact.
“Really, journalism is the only job I’ve ever had and ever known,” Sharockman said. “I’m a news junkie.”
He didn’t think he’d ever become a fact-checker, he said, but fact-checking is more important than ever before. People are tricked by false stories all the time, so in addition to fact-checking for readers, he wants to teach readers to fact-check on their own.
“We need people who are committed to truth and objective truth,” Sharockman said.
Sharockman’s advice to current students is to try everything.
The journalism field is in flux right now, which can be scary, he said, but can also provide opportunities for reinvention and innovation.
He said fact-checking is a perfect example of that.
When he thinks about his time at PolitiFact, one memory that stands out is site's coverage of the 2016 presidential debates. The entire staff watched the debate and attempted to produce as many fact checks as possible, as quickly as possible. The team published two new fact checks before the debate event ended, he said.
"Because candidates often repeat themselves, we were able to offer viewers and voters critical context to a number of claims in near real-time," Sharockman said. "It was stressful, nerve-wracking, and also, a lot of fun."