Once Lupita Nyong’o and Chiwetel Ejiofor left the red carpet after receiving Best Picture for 12 Years a Slave, a Twitter user identified a flaw in the article on which the movie is based. The New York Times originally covered Solomon Northup’s tale of enslavement on Jan. 20, 1853.
Back in 1853, that writer misspelled Solomon Northup’s name as Solomon “Northrop” in the story and as Solomon “Northrup” in the headline. On March 4, 2014, The Times issued a notice of correction:
“An article on Jan. 20, 1853, recounting the story of Solomon Northup, whose memoir 12 Years a Slave became a movie 160 years later that won the best picture Oscar at the 86th Academy Awards on Sunday night, misspelled his surname as Northrop. And the headline misspelled it as Northrup. The errors came to light on Monday after a Twitter user pointed out the article in The Times archives. (The errors notwithstanding, The Times described the article as ‘a more complete and authentic record than has yet appeared.’)”
Editors left the mistake unnoticed and uncorrected for 161 years. Because of issues with content verification and fact-checking, chairs of The New York Times Company threatened to implement a moratorium on the paper’s publication rights as punishment.
“This is the first time we have faced any type of limitation on our publication rights by our governing body since the paper’s founding on Sept. 18, 1851,” said Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times. “After reading about the recent moratorium at Albion College, I decided to consult with Albion student journalists.”
Jacques Dujardin, Paris, France, junior and editor-in-chief of The Albion Pleiad, is advising Abramson on how to tackle moratoriums on publication rights.
“Abramson should contact the Student Press Law Center [SPLC] for legal advice,” Dujardin said. “The Times employs high-powered attorneys to protect the organization and its staffers, but the SPLC specifically represents the interests of journalists. They have a great Twitter account, too.”
Dujardin suggested Abramson continue to fight against the moratorium so The Times could keep the public informed.
“The last thing she should do is call it quits,” Dujardin said. “Times like these call for tenacity, brie cheese and red wine. If you don’t stand up for your publication, you risk losing it. Au revoir, ciao, it’s gone.”
Even though The Pleiad can finally publish again, Dujardin still has regrets.
“I think the best thing to do is go back to France,” Dujardin said. “Once The Pleiad’s publication rights were revoked for nine days, I immediately knew I should have taken that internship at Le Monde.”
Abramson believes removing publication rights is morally wrong and destructive to American society, but she still feels embarrassed about the Northup article.
“We shouldn’t have added that extra letter in his last name,” Abramson said. “I’m taking steps to develop better copy editing and fact-checking policies. One would think that after 163 years we wouldn’t make any mistakes. Ever.”
Photo via The New York Times Archives