NPR Appoints Longtime Print Reporter As New Ombudsman

January 12, 2015

NPR CEO Jarl Mohn today named veteran print reporter Elizabeth Jensen as the public radio network’s fifth ombudsman.

“I think the primary responsibility is to report the concerns of NPR’s listeners and to show NPR’s journalism is … transparent and accountable,” Jensen said in an interview. “It’s a two-way conversation.”

Jensen, a former media reporter for the Los Angeles Times, has written extensively about public broadcasting for The New York Times and the trade publication Current since 2005. Previously, she was also a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and the New York Daily News and has written for Variety and other publications.

She said she is keen to explain NPR’s journalism and journalistic choices to the public and to offer criticism when warranted.

The person holding the job, also known as a public editor, typically serves as a blend of the audience’s representative and paid critic of the institution. But each fashions the job to his or her own sensibility.

Jensen, 55, replaces Edward Schumacher-Matos, who has served as ombudsman since June 2011. During his tenure, he wrote about facets of the network that stirred controversy, criticism and concern, including its handling of events in the Middle East; how the cancellation of Tell Me More would affect the coverage of race; and how NPR’s journalists engage with the public in the age of social media.

Perhaps most notably, Schumacher-Matos clashed with NPR executives in 2013 over his 80-page report taking issue with an investigative story on South Dakota’s foster system that asserted state authorities took Native American children from their families at an alarming rate.

NPR seemed to issue conflicting signals over whether the organization would continue to maintain the ombudsman job in that form after the departure of Schumacher-Matos. Some industry executives have argued the prevalence of readily available media criticism online has made such a post an expensive luxury.

But in Mohn’s first weeks on the job in summer 2014, the new CEO publicly committed himself to keeping the position in essentially its current shape and asked Schumacher-Matos to extend his tenure until he found a replacement.

Jensen’s three-year stint is to begin on Jan. 26.

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