Holding public media accountable

NPR’s public liaison educates Lane students on ethics in the newsroom

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On Thursday Feb. 16, Elizabeth Jensen offered her words of newsroom wisdom to writing students on what it means to be an Ombudsman for National Public Radio.

As an Ombudsman, it’s Jensen’s job to monitor how NPR listeners react to the stories covered each day over the radio broadcast.

“I am the newsroom liaison to NPR. I present the public’s opinion to the newsroom and explain the newsroom to the public,” Jensen said.

Jensen says she is completely independent from NPR. She provides a third party perspective to the CEO on how NPR’s stories are perceived daily by regular listeners.

“I deal mostly with issues of ethics, transparency and other issues relating to the journalism itself, I try not to get involved with issues of staff, but I do deal with corrections,” Jensen said.

Listeners often write into NPR with questions or suggestions on how NPR could be improved or to voice concerns related to the news they present.

Jensen can only work as an Ombudsman for three years  so she does not develop a relationship with the newsroom that can no longer relay the criticism needed for NPR to provide credible news.

“One of the reasons for the three year term is because they don’t want you to get too chummy with the newsroom. You have to be willing to say really tough things when it’s called for, so they don’t want you to be too inside the organization,” Jensen said.

The best way Jensen can be reached is through the Ombudsman page on the NPR website. Jensen writes multiple columns that she posts on the page that include her thoughts and feelings as well as the criticisms and suggestions made by the public.

“The mailbag is our emailing inbox to contact the Ombudsman. We get over 1,400 emails a month, which is a lot, and we try to answer them all,” Jensen said.

In one of her most recent columns she elaborates on why NPR made the choice to not use the word “lies” to describe the recent statements President Trump and his administration have made that are contrary to evidence provided.

“Sometimes people can be very rude. I’m looking at one here from ‘Bill’ that says ‘a lie is a lie you’re normalizing words by not using the word,’ so yeah pretty rude, but sometimes they can be thoughtful too,” Jensen said.  

A lot of Jensen’s job deals with harsh criticism like this from the public. She says it can get pretty tiring sometimes but often some of the comments are so obtuse she finds humor in them too.

After Jensen’s brief description to students on what her role is at NPR, she opened up the discussion to questions.  She said she was in Eugene to collaborate with local stations, like KLCC, “so I can tell them what listeners have been telling me and they can tell me what their listeners have been telling them, so it’s a good way to gain a good perspective on the spectrum of listeners NPR has,” Jensen said.

Jensen will be traveling the country throughout the year to work with local stations like KLCC here in Eugene to help provide her insight on why NPR covers all the stories that it does, and how local stations can improve their own coverage.

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