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.

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?

On Here and Now Wednesday, sharp listeners caught NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik flatly stating that Donald Trump Jr. "knowingly lied" in July 2016 when asked about contact between his father's presidential campaign and Russian figures.

If the number of media mentions is an indicator, the National Dairy Council and affiliated organization the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy seemed to hit the equivalent of a marketing home run with a recent survey purporting to show that 7 percent of Americans believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows.

Good for them. I just don't think NPR should have played along.

"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.'"

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