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.

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.

A week after the election, the Ombudsman inbox is still fielding a heavy influx of emails with audience opinions about NPR's presidential campaign journalism. Many of the emails have been vitriolic, a reflection of hard-felt voter emotions, no doubt.

During the second presidential candidate debate, on Oct. 9, Republican candidate Donald Trump singled out one of his guests, a woman named Kathy Shelton.

Here's Trump: "One of the women, who is a wonderful woman, at 12 years old, was raped — at 12. Her client she represented, got him off. And she's seen laughing on two separate occasions — laughing at the girl who was raped. Kathy Shelton, that young woman, is here with us tonight."

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, then Hillary Rodham, was the lawyer he referred to as laughing at the victim.

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).

How would you describe, in brief, the conversation Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump had in 2005 with then-Access Hollywood co-host Billy Bush, a recording of which was leaked to the Washington Post last Friday?

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.

Many listeners (and political commentators, too) have expressed concerns about Monday's political commentary on Morning Edition, in which Cokie Roberts said, with no specific attribution, that whispering "Democrats" are discussing the possibility of having Democratic party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton "step aside and finding another candidate."

After two weeks off for the Republican and Democratic nominating conventions, my office is back to tracking NPR's newsmagazine and online campaign coverage. In the week starting Sunday, July 31, NPR again devoted the most stories to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

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.

On Friday, Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep interviewed David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who is running for U.S. Senate in Louisiana. Duke ran for the same office twice in the 1990s and lost; in announcing his new candidacy, he cited the current political climate, as evidenced by support for Donald Trump's campaign.

We've made it through two weeks of back-to-back political conventions, with an accompanying burst of emails from listeners. The majority of messages to my office this week and last concerned the joint NPR/PBS prime-time convention broadcasts, which I addressed in an earlier column. But there were other concerns, as well. Here are some thoughts on just a few of those concerns

The campaign for president — including how NPR covers it — is clearly top of mind for many listeners and readers who write to the Ombudsman's office. The topic has far outweighed any other in the hundreds of emails we've received each month during the past year.

The issue is a priority for us, as well. No other story is likely to take up so much NPR airtime or online space in the coming months. NPR needs to get its coverage right. But what exactly does "right" sound and read like in an election year as unusual as this one?

Too Much Trump

Apr 5, 2016

For weeks the letters have streamed in from listeners unhappy about the amount of time NPR is devoting to all things Donald Trump.

An email came recently from listener Stephen K. Reeder from Cerritos, Calif.:

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