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.

NPR newsroom leaders have concluded their investigation into the work of a longtime freelance contributor, Danielle Karson, one month after they said they had discovered she had recycled sound bites in some of her radio reports.

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.

NPR said Friday that it discovered that a longtime freelance contributor, Danielle Karson, had recycled sound bites in more than two dozen reports that aired from 2011 until recently. NPR has handled the discovery, which was made by a producer and an editor, quickly and transparently, as it should.

Wildfires are ravaging hundreds of thousands of acres of the western United States and Canada this summer, taking lives and homes in California, closing parts of Yosemite National Park to visitors and racing through forests and grasslands in Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado and British Columbia. Smoke from those fires is causing breathing difficulties as far away as Maine.

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.

Update: Four days after this column was published, NPR changed its policy. According to a July 2 memo from Sara Goo, an NPR managing editor who oversees digital content, to the newsroom, "opinion content published on NPR.org must now include 'Opinion:' as the first word of the headline."

Very few people these days are going to the landing pages for NPR blogs such as The Two-Way (for breaking news) or Parallels (for international news) to catch up on the day's happenings. If you're one of them, however, you're going to encounter some changes come June 5.

A story breaks. An NPR reporter writing an online story (not a radio newsmagazine report, where there might be a firmer deadline) attempts to contact a subject of the news. How long is a reasonable amount of time to wait for a response before posting the story at NPR.org without one?

That debate is at the bottom of a complaint about an NPR story that ran last week. It is also a question newsrooms are facing daily in the #MeToo era as accusations against public figures proliferate.

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.

Live interviews with newsmakers. If I had to find a thread that runs through a couple of hundred listener emails, tweets and direct communications with my office in recent months, it would be concerns that stem from the challenges of doing live interviews. Those three- to five-minute conversations (or sometimes grillings) with politicians and policy experts are now a regular staple of Morning Edition and are being heard more frequently on the weekday All Things Considered, as well.

Listeners who tuned in to All Things Considered Wednesday may have heard a strangely vague on-air story retraction that raised as many questions as it answered — especially for those who didn't hear the original story on April 3.

Here's what was said:

Is NPR's newsroom a "rabble of pagans"?

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.

On Dec. 10, my office (as well as the NPR newsroom directly) received emails from a retired Bellingham, Wash., resident named Paul Vanderveen, requesting corrections to an NPR story.

My office gets requests for corrections nearly every week and normally we don't write about them. Occasional mistakes are a regrettable byproduct of journalism and it's more important that errors get corrected quickly, as I've found NPR usually does. But this one stood out, and seemed worth a closer look.

It's time for our annual update on the racial, ethnic and gender diversity of the NPR newsroom.

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

Take a political year that lurched exhaustingly from major story to major story. Combine that with the newsroom year-end tradition of ranking the biggest stories of the year. What you got last week in NPR's case was a game of political brackets, a take-off on the March Madness college basketball tournament matchups pitting 64 teams against each other in a knockout competition, with people at home playing along by choosing who they think will win.

As mass shootings have proliferated in this country, so has the debate over how much focus news organizations should put on the shooters versus the victims.

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.

In this week's Mailbag: praise for the way Morning Edition has been bundling fact-checking with its live interviews and questions about an All Things Considered interview with a CIA psychologist.

A New Way To Fact Check

Making a mistake is a pit-in-the-stomach fear of most good reporters. But how a news organization approaches corrections is one of the defining factors separating trustworthy journalism from the media pack. No news organization is going to be error-free, particularly as news cycles get ever faster, so trustworthy news organizations correct mistakes quickly and they don't try to hide them. To the contrary, they make any needed corrections prominently, giving audiences confidence that, overall, the news outlet's reporting is solid.

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.

A year ago, NPR announced its decision to end commenting at the end of stories on NPR.org, terminating a form of audience engagement that had been a fixture of NPR's digital site since 2008. At the time, NPR executives told me they were investigating newer moderation systems that could eventually make it feasible to reintroduce the comments feature. (One reason behind the decision to end comments was a lack of staff resources to keep the comments from tipping into incivility.)

On June 18, NPR published an online-only review of Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America, a newly published nonfiction book by Duke University historian Nancy MacLean. NPR's reviewer praised the book for revealing a "clear and present danger" to the future of the country (the review is prominently excerpted on the book's Amazon page); reviewers at other publications did, as well.

The Ombudsman's mailbox last week included complaints about NPR's decision to use some foul language, and the choice of a particular interview subject. Here are some newsroom responses.

Why Some Foul Words, But Not Others?

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