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.

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"?

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.

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.

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.

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.

NPR's recent announcement of a new wine club (a bottle of "All Grapes Considered" Malbec, anyone?) garnered largely

"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.

The investigative reporters at ProPublica turned up a disturbing story about Facebook "taking money to connect advertisers with anti-Semites," as Morning Edition host Rachel Martin phrased it last week. NPR's reporting on the story, however inadvertently, raised its own disturbing newsroom lapses.

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.

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?

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.

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.

Increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of NPR's newsroom staff is a publicly acknowledged priority from top management on down. But in 2016, NPR made virtually no progress in changing the makeup of its staff.

"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).

Starting today, NPR is changing the always-sensitive ways in which its newsroom learns about and deals with current and potential funders: the foundations, individuals and companies whose grants, major donations and sponsorships provide much of the money to make NPR's work possible. The changes are intended to bring more transparency about funders to the public and avoid the kinds of slipups that raised serious concerns last May about NPR's coverage of the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal.

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.

Once again, NPR finds itself in the uncomfortable position of reporting on unverified information, just as it did last year when WikiLeaks dumped troves of what it said were hacked emails taken from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta, and from top officials of the Democratic National Committee.

Four years ago, my predecessor, Edward Schumacher-Matos, wrote about listener unhappiness concerning NPR's conversations with ordinary voters, or what is known in journalism as "person on the street" interviews or vox pops. Similar criticisms have been rolling in to the Ombudsman mailbox in recent weeks.

My office has spent many recent hours responding to readers and listeners who believe NPR has not covered, or covered enough, the ongoing release of hacked emails allegedly taken from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta. In fact, NPR has covered the content of the emails fairly extensively (and that coverage has brought its own complaints from listeners and readers who believe the email revelations are relatively unimportant compared to other issues bubbling up in the presidential race, or policy discussions).

Reporting, analysis and commentary — those are the three predominant types of content NPR's newsroom offers listeners and readers. Reporting and analysis make up most of what the newsroom puts out. However, it is the very small category of commentary (and political commentary, specifically, since that makes up the majority of NPR commentary at the moment) that is driving an outsized number of complaints to the Ombudsman office this election season.

NPR listeners and readers have said they want fact-checking during this political campaign season and NPR responded with what I found to be a very impressive new offering Monday night: a close to real-time annotation of a transcript of the first televised debate between Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

My office is tracking NPR's candidate coverage, online and on its morning and evening newsmagazines, in response to requests from listeners. From Sept. 11 through Sept. 24, there were 42 stories focused primarily on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, compared with 34 stories focused mostly on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson was the main focus of one story during that period.

My office is tracking NPR's candidates coverage, online and on its newsmagazines, in response to requests from listeners. For the two weeks from Aug. 28 through Sept. 10, NPR's disproportionate focus on Republican candidate Donald Trump continued.

During the period, 41 stories focused largely on Trump, 15 focused largely on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, three focused on Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and one each focused on the Green Party's Jill Stein and independent conservative candidate Evan McMullin.

NPR is making an announcement today that is sure to upset a loyal core of its audience, those who comment online at NPR.org (including those who comment on this blog). As of Aug. 23, online comments, a feature of the site since 2008, will be disabled.

With the Republican and Democratic party conventions behind us, my office is back to tracking NPR's campaign coverage. We will publish the latest numbers later this week. But, first, a look at a pair of good pieces by Tom Gjelten (it's not just me saying so) on the religious backgrounds of the Republican and Democratic presidential and vice presidential candidates, and why some listeners ended up seeing bias that didn't exist.

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