Elizabeth Jensen

Elizabeth Jensen was appointed to a three-year term as NPR's Ombudsman/Public Editor in January 2015. In this role, she serves as the public's representative to NPR, responsible for bringing transparency to matters of journalism and journalism ethics. The Ombudsman/Public Editor receives tens of thousands of listener inquiries annually and responds to significant queries, comments and criticisms.

Jensen has spent decades taking an objective look at the media industry. As a contributor to The New York Times, she covered the public broadcasting beat – PBS, NPR, local stations and programming – as well as children's media, documentaries, non-profit journalism start-ups and cable programming. She also wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review and was a regular contributor to Current, the public broadcasting trade publication, where, among other topics, she wrote about sustainability strategies for public television stations.

Over her three decades in journalism, Jensen has reported on journalistic decision-making, mergers and acquisitions, content, institutional transformations, the intersection of media and politics, advertising and more, for a variety of national news organizations. She reported on the media for The Los Angeles Times, where she broke the story of Sinclair Broadcast Group's partisan 2004 campaign activities, and was honored with an internal award for a story of the last official American Vietnam War casualty. Previously she was a senior writer for the national media watchdog consumer magazine Brill's Content, spent six years at The Wall Street Journal, where she was part of a team of reporters honored with a Sigma Delta Chi public service award for tobacco industry coverage, and spent several years with the New York Daily News.

In 2005, Jensen was the recipient of a Kiplinger Fellowship in Public Affairs Journalism at The Ohio State University, focusing her research on media politicization. She earned her M.A. in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, spending her second year at Geneva's L'Institut universitaire de hautes études internationales, and received her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

When not covering media, Jensen, who teaches food journalism at New York University, has occasionally reported on the food world, including investigating vegetarian marshmallow fraud for a CNBC newsmagazine report.

This office gets weekly complaints about what is perceived to be an imbalance in guests: There are too many Republicans interviewed and not enough Democrats. Or vice versa. Or a partisan from one side is interviewed without a corresponding counterpoint.

So I was pleased to see that NPR on Friday pulled back the curtain a bit about its attempts last week to book politicians to discuss the Paul Manafort verdict and the Michael Cohen guilty plea: The scarcity of Republican politicians, in this case (as occasionally happens with Democrats, too), wasn't for a lack of trying.

Morning Edition listeners will have noticed this week that the newscasts, or headlines, have moved around. Newscasts had aired each hour at 1 minute after the hour and again at 19 minutes and 42 minutes after the hour. Now, while there is the same amount of newscast time, it is grouped in just two breaks, at more intuitive times at the top and bottom of the hour — as was the case for most of Morning Edition's nearly four-decade history.

Sunday's "Unite the Right 2" rally across from the White House was a bust, when just a couple of dozen protesters turned up. But the outrage against NPR over its coverage leading up to the event will likely live for a long time.

On June 30, NPR's Weekend All Things Considered aired a lighthearted World Cup piece discussing why the Brits use "football" and the Americans use "soccer" to refer to the same game. The subsequent debate this piece sparked has nothing to do with soccer and is not remotely lighthearted.

My last column on the burgeoning number of politician interviews on NPR's newsmagazines, many live (and then rebroadcast over subsequent hours), provoked a good deal of response.

My essential point (channeling the frustrations of many listeners) was that the interviews, which have proliferated on NPR in the last year, too often do not add to listeners' understanding of the issues being discussed.

Here's bad news for fans of NPR's 13.7 Cosmos & Culture. The 7-year-old opinion blog, "set at the intersection of science and culture," which featured the work of scientist-contributors — Adam Frank, Barbara J. King, Tania Lombrozo, Marcelo Gleiser and Alva Noë — is closing down April 14. The contributors will have a chance to write final posts before then.

Last Friday, All Things Considered aired a four-minute piece that was an extended on-air correction to an on-air interview that aired two days earlier, about Gina Haspel, President Trump's nominee for director of the CIA.

NPR's news operation is a team effort. But a newsroom can't abruptly lose its leader — as NPR did in November when Michael Oreskes resigned under pressure amid allegations of sexual harassment — and expect to bounce back quickly or easily.

Note to readers: this post uses profanity that may offend some.

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits are back in the news, so complaints about NPR's use of the word "entitlements" to describe them are back on the rise.

Reporting is a process. One story often leads to another. On the rare occasion, more reporting calls an earlier story into question.

Thanksgiving cooking pieces roll out on the radio as reliably as the turkey centerpiece itself. Producers need holiday-themed content, and listener-cooks (like me) need new ideas. Cliché? Maybe, but it can be a win-win when done right. But that's the caveat: just as with the Thanksgiving bird, success is all in the execution.

Sexual "misconduct," "abuse," "assault," and "harassment." NPR has used all — sometimes multiple descriptors in the same story — to characterize the allegations that have been leveled against former Alabama judge and current Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore.

For some listeners, calling the allegations "misconduct" minimizes them.

Last week was extraordinarily difficult at NPR, as the top newsroom executive, Michael Oreskes, was forced to resign in the wake of profoundly unsettling allegations that he had engaged in multiple incidents of sexual harassment over the span of two decades, including while at NPR.

Oreskes had been at NPR since April 2015; his departure is yet another dramatic high-level staff change at an organization that had seen — until the last three years or so — a virtual revolving door of chief executives and heads of the news department.

"Lone wolf" or "domestic terrorist"?

Sunday night's Las Vegas shooting brought a strong response from NPR's newsroom, but, as with any major breaking news story, listeners and readers had questions and complaints. Chief among them was how NPR referred to the now-dead gunman, a white man.

A Thursday Morning Edition interview with a Red Cross official and its companion online story (posted late Wednesday night) have prompted an outpouring of complaints to my office and NPR and on social media.

NPR listeners are a compassionate bunch. All week they have been emailing to say they are anxious to know what happened to 19-year-old Jada Wilson in northeast Houston, who on Sunday told Michel Martin of being trapped with her family in her grandmother's home in waist-deep water, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey flooding. As Martin noted, listeners could hear the water, seemingly lapping around her, in the background.

NPR is changing the way it labels opinion content online next week. Readers of npr.org will be well served by this move, which will more clearly distinguish news content from pieces that express personal opinions or take sides on an issue.

Starting July 25, online content that is currently labeled as "Commentary" — including pieces on the 13.7: Cosmos & Culture blog and the NPR Ombudsman column — will instead be called "Opinion," highlighted in bright blue. Book, movie and television reviews will also get a new blue "Review" label.

Colorado Public Radio recently brought together a panel of news professionals in Denver to talk about journalism ethics. While a number of topics were touched upon, the allotted 90 minutes was hardly enough time to explore the many questions about how NPR and CPR journalists approach their work.

Last week, when former FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, he said at one point: "I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter."

That memo was a nonclassified set of notes he wrote detailing a meeting he had with President Trump.

NPR, like most other major news organizations, referred to what Comey did — asking a friend to share the memo with a reporter — as "leaking."

"Undocumented." "Obamacare." "Pro-life."

According to NPR's style guide, these words are to be avoided — or used sparingly — by NPR reporters and hosts when discussing the issues in which they are likely to come up (immigration, health care, abortion rights). But sharp listeners and readers note that all have been used in recent weeks, either on-air or online (by staff, not just by people being interviewed).

An April 27 Morning Edition report by Geoff Brumfiel, an NPR science editor, ran just a scant 2 ½ minutes, but it prompted an outsized outpouring of emails.

Editor's Note: Last week, Elizabeth was honored to give the 2017 George Chaplin Fellowship in Distinguished Journalism address at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. Her prepared remarks are below and may differ slightly from delivery. Mahalo to the East-West Center and event co-sponsor Hawaii Public Radio for hosting.

Thank you to the East-West Center, for this warm welcome.

The Ombudsman's Office awoke last week to this email from a Baltimore listener: "Good morning. Please forgive the stark phrasing. I love NPR but am becoming desperate at the lack of context and institutional knowledge in the morning rush for 'experts.'"

"Bias" was the label most applied to emails that came in to the Ombudsman Office in March (we try to label the vast majority of emails by concern).

The critical emails came in after Sebastian Gorka's first interview on NPR, and then after his second interview and after his third.

The Ombudsman's office heard this week and last from listeners with varying concerns around how NPR covers major appearances by President Donald Trump. We took them to the newsroom for reaction.

Journalism that covers political and civic affairs is in the midst of an extraordinary period of challenge.

I was taken aback to wake up Wednesday to a Morning Edition report about why NPR is not using the word "lie" to "characterize the statements of President Trump when they are at odds with evidence to the contrary," as a separate post on NPR's Two-Way blog put it.

In June 2016, David Gilkey, an NPR photojournalist, and Zabihullah Tamanna, NPR's Afghan interpreter and also a journalist, were killed while on assignment for NPR in Afghanistan. Their deaths in the field — when their armored Humvee, driven by a Afghan National Army soldier, was hit by heavy weapons fire — marked a sad first for NPR in its more than 45 years on the air.

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