UPDATE (31 July 2105): Both errors have been corrected as of now.
Let me preface this post by saying that I quite like Die Zeit, the august German weekly newspaper. I have subscribed to Die Zeit for years, and have derived much pleasure and enlightenment from it, especially the Feuilleton. Sometimes I disagree with its editorial line, but who doesn't?
So it's in a spirit of amity and constructive criticism that I point out what I consider to be errors and ethical lapses in its reporting. Such as yesterday, when I tweeted Jochen Bittner and Sabine Rückert to complain about errors in articles about the United States criminal justice system, after there was no response to tweets I sent to the authors of the articles themselves.*
And now I can report a partial victory for accuracy!
Error Number One Secretly Corrected
After I pointed out a mistake in the story published yesterday on the website of Die Zeit, someone silently corrected that error. Instead of stating that 'most' persons killed by the police this year in the USA were not white, the article has been changed to: "663 people were [killed by police] this year ... compared to their percentage of the population, there were disproportionately many blacks and hispanics."
That is accurate. Of course the article fails to mention that the vast majority of those killed were armed, but we can debate whether that is necessary context. I think it is, others many not. And the author of the piece does note later that the prevalence of weapons in the USA is an important factor.
Of course, the article was silently corrected. I can find no indication on the website that this assertion has been changed -- not in a note at the bottom of the text (standard policy in the USA), or in the comments (there are 17 pages of them, so any notice here would be easily overlooked). Nor did the journalist in question or any of the editors I emailed respond to my request, except to secretly correct the mistake.
This does not conform to the standards used by the vast majority of U.S. newspapers, or to the Code of Ethics of the American Society of Professional Journalists:
– Respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity and fairness.
– Acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently. Explain corrections and clarifications carefully and clearly.
But of course, Hamburg is not in the USA. However, Die Zeit has its own code of ethics which says basically the same thing (g) and adds (my translation): "It is unacceptable to silently correct mistakes in the content of an online article." (emphasis added)
It certainly looks like that's what happened here, doesn't it?
Error Number Two Still Out There
The second error I pointed to was the assertion in an August 2014 article called (my translation of the title) Saying Goodbye to the Dream of a Post-Racial Society (g) in which author Sebastian Moll asserted that 30% of the American population is black, and that 60% of the people in American prisons and jails are black. As I pointed out back on July 17th, both statics are way off. I tweeted Mr. Moll requesting he correct the piece, and received, as you might expect, no response.
13 days later, this error stands uncorrected (g). I am going to start a 'Die Zeit Correction Watch'. Each day I'll check to see if this mistake has been corrected, and each day it hasn't, I will tweet Die Zeit editors and the story's author to politely remind them that there is a mistake on their website.
I'll start tomorrow. Just to make it interesting: For every day the article goes uncorrected after today, I will donate 1 Euro to the organization Reporters Without Borders, which advocates for the rights of journalists worldwide.
Wait, no, that sets the wrong incentive. Right now, I plan to donate 30 Euros to RWB. For every day this article goes uncorrected, I will reduce that amount by one euro. So if they correct it tomorrow, RWB gets 30 euros. After 15 days, 15 euros. After 30 days, if the mistake is still there, RWB gets bupkus. Zilch. Nada. Gaaar Nichts.
To make things fair, I will even count a silent correction as a correction, even though that violates Die Zeit's own policy.
Let the countdown begin!