nyt publishes long article on beijing’s air pollution, but makes mistake in second paragraph


Update 1/31/12: The story online has been corrected with a correction issued. Kudos to the NYT for ensuring even a minor mistake like this gets fixed.

Two days ago, the New York Times published a good article summarizing much of the current debate and recent progress regarding air pollution monitoring and reporting in Beijing.

Unfortunately, there is an error in the fourth sentence of the article:

Officials have claimed for years that the air quality in fast-growing China is constantly improving. Beijing, for example, was said to have experienced a record 274 “blue sky” days in 2011, a statistic belied by the heavy smog smothering the city for much of the year.

There are actually two errors here. First, Beijing reported 286 Blue Sky Days in 2011. 274 was simply their target for the year, which they achieved early and then exceeded. This is even stated clearly in the Xinhua article linked to directly from the NYT story. Second, even if Beijing had achieved 274 Blue Sky Days, this would not have been a record; the number of Blue Sky Days was above 274 in both 2009 and 2010.

The mistake doesn’t really impact the overall context or conclusions of the story, so from that perspective I suppose it can be considered minor. However, in my experience the Chinese are very quick to highlight small mistakes in Western media reports, and on this basis discredit entire articles (or even entire news sources). I worry that small mistakes like this undermine the impact of otherwise good reporting by Western journalists here.

I’m also just surprised something so basic got past the NYT’s fact checkers.

4 Responses to “nyt publishes long article on beijing’s air pollution, but makes mistake in second paragraph”

  1. Quigley says:

    Note the article was changed to say: “Beijing, for example, was said to have experienced 286 “blue sky” days in 2011, a statistic belied by the heavy smog smothering the city for much of the year.”

    And the correction was noted at bottom of article as well
    Correction: February 4, 2012

    An article last Saturday about air pollution in China misstated a government claim concerning air quality in Beijing, a city that is often blanketed in smog. Officials reported that Beijing had 286 “blue sky” days in 2011, and they noted that was the same number as the previous year; they did not say there were 274 such days or describe those days as a record.

  2. Vance says:

    Quigley:

    Thanks, I saw the correction as soon as it was issued (on 1/30), and updated my post accordingly. It’s strange that they appeared to change the correction issued; the original one was as follows:

    Correction: January 30, 2012

    An earlier version of this article misstated the number of “blue sky” days claimed for Beijing in 2011 by the municipal authorities, and mistakenly called the statistic a record; it was 286, not 274, and the city claimed the same figure in 2010.

  3. Jo says:

    how to contact you? i am preparing some data and would like to know more details.

  4. Vance says:

    Jo:

    I can be reached at livefrombejing at gmail dot com.

    Vance

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