Der Spiegel is a popular German news magazine, and is world-renowned for their in-depth investigative reporting. But now they are answering investigative questions themselves, as prominent journalist Claas Relotius has been found to be a fraud.
The media world was stunned by the revelations that the award-winning journalist Claas Relotius had, according to the weekly, “made up stories and invented protagonists” in at least 14 out of 60 articles that appeared in its print and online editions, warning that other outlets could also be affected.
Relotius, 33, resigned after admitting to the scam. He had written for the magazine for seven years and won numerous awards for his investigative journalism, including CNN Journalist of the Year in 2014.
Earlier this month, he won Germany’s Reporterpreis (Reporter of the Year) for his story about a young Syrian boy, which the jurors praised for its “lightness, poetry and relevance”. It has since emerged that all the sources for his reportage were at best hazy, and much of what he wrote was made up.
The falsification came to light after a colleague who worked with him on a story along the US-Mexican border raised suspicions about some of the details in Relotius’s reporting, having harboured doubts about him for some time.
The colleague, Juan Moreno, eventually tracked down two alleged sources quoted extensively by Relotius in the article, which was published in November. Both said they had never met Relotius. Relotius had also lied about seeing a hand-painted sign that read “Mexicans keep out”, a subsequent investigation found.
Other fraudulent stories included one about a Yemeni prisoner in Guantanamo Bay, and one about the American football star Colin Kaepernick.
In a lengthy article, Spiegel, which sells about 725,000 print copies a month and has an online readership of more than 6.5 million, said it was “shocked” by the discovery and apologised to its readers and to anyone who may have been the subject of “fraudulent quotes, made-up personal details or invented scenes at fictitious places”.
Relotius is not just a low-level reporter cutting corners to get ahead. He was named CNN Journalist of the Year in 2014, and just this month won Germany’s Reporterpreis (Reporter of the Year) prize. Der Spiegel has long been the highest profile of German news outlets, but this scandal threatens the 70 year old institution at a time when all media, and print publications in particular, are struggling to find their way. One journalist’s conduct over the course of the last several years has now called both Der Spiegel’s reputation, and future, into question.