Error in "12 Years a Slave" Story

NYT 12 YearsThe New York Times has just corrected an error in spelling the name of the man featured in the Academy Award winning movie 12 Years a Slave. The 1853 article about the free African American man who was sold into slavery spelled his name Solomon Northrop and, in the headline, Northrup, rather than the correct spelling, Northup.

The New York Times correction acknowledges a tweet for pointing out the error:

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.')

Rebecca Skloot's tweets revealed the error but also included a typo:

Skloot tweets

In a later tweet, Skloot admitted, "The irony, of course, is that I'm a terrible speller and proofreader."

Discussion Starters:

  • How could an error like this happen? What technologies and processes may be in place today that might have caught the error before going to press?
  • Does it surprise you that the error was revealed in a tweet and that The New York Times didn't catch the mistake until 161 years later?