Kudos to the Christian Science Monitor for correcting is 10 August 2013 story entitled “Churches feel vulnerable after Mugabe reelected in Zimbabwe”. By moving quickly and acting openly, the Christian Science Monitor shows how a quality newspaper responds to a mistake. Well done! On Monday I posted a story at Get Religion questioning the accuracy of the first version of the CSM story. I wrote:
The gist of the story entitled “Churches feel vulnerable after Mugabe reelected in Zimbabwe” printed on 10 August 2013 is correct — church leaders are worried what Robert Mugabe will do following his reelection as president — but the background information used to pad out the article is incorrect.
The mistake, I alleged came in the back half of the story when the CSM reported the former Anglican bishop of Harare, Dr. Nolbert Kunonga -- a crony of Robert Mugabe and a bit of a bad hat -- had possession of the diocesan cathedral, an orphanage and the church's bank accounts. I wrote this had been true, but:
I had reported all of these things almost two years ago for the Church of England Newspaper as had the secular press. Last year I reported on the expulsion of Dr. Kunonga from the cathedral and the return of the diocesan bank accounts and vehicles to Dr. Gandiya. Had something happened this past week?
A quick email to Dr. Gandiya returned an answer from Harare that the bishop was worried Dr. Kunonga might try something new. But they still possessed the cathedral, orphanage, schools, bank accounts and cars of the diocese. Dr. Kunonga and his allies had absconded with some things, and saddled the diocese with unpaid bills –but nothing more. Nor did the Archbishop of Canterbury’s staff seem to know anything about plans for a meeting between Robert Mugabe and Justin Welby.
I concluded that:
It is pretty easy to see how the mistake was made. One of the hyperlinks in the CSM story goes to a piece in the Zim Daily. The date at the top of the page is today’s date. And tomorrow the date at the top will be tomorrow’s date. Even though the story is two years old. The examples pulled from this article for the CSM were true — but no longer.
In response to my story I received a note from the CSM's editors saying they would look into the matter. On Wednesday I saw they had re-written the piece, incorporating direct quotes from the diocesan Facebook page and bringing the story up to date. And at the top of the story was this header line:
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article focused primarily on churches in Zimbabwe and relied, mistakenly, on a wire report that was dated. The Monitor regrets the error.
The path taken by the CSM is a fine example of how to correct a mistake, one that other media outlets would be wise to emulate.
Mistakes will always happen -- and I am guilty of making them also. There are low level mistakes -- errors of spelling, grammar, word omission or scrambled dates -- what were once called scrivener's errors. No doubt there will be some in this story as well. The Guardian is famous for these sorts of silly mistakes and in jest is called The Grauniad -- a reference to one memorable cock up when it misspelled its name. It is great fun being self-righteous -- the scribes and pharisees did enjoy their work. But catching out copy editing errors is not the mission of GetReligion.
It seeks to point out errors of fact, biases -- whether unconscious or deliberate -- unquestioned assumptions and unasked questions. It has an intellectual, aesthetic, and even a moral mission to improve the art of writing. (Yes, I know that sounds vulgar, but there you are.)
While some comments on this website argue GetReligion is nothing more than a hit squad -- secret Freemasons, bonesmen, trilateralists, Bilderburgers, running dog capitalist lackeys in service to the vast right wing conspiracy (WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE AND ARE WATCHING) -- and there is even a website that has found its calling in denigrating what we do -- the truth is much less exciting. GetReligion seeks to promote the tradition of classical, liberal Anglo-American journalism. Stories are praised, stories are criticized -- but all in service to the higher goal of improving the craft.
The CSM's correction is a positive model for other outlets to emulate. Well done and thank you.