A Conversation With NPR Public Editor Elizabeth Jensen

Jul 9, 2019

Elizabeth Jensen has been working as NPR's Public Editor since 2015.
Credit James Wrona/NPR

Elizabeth Jensen has been working as NPR's Public Editor since 2015, and her term was recently extended to January 2020.

Jensen describes her role as "the liaison between the newsroom and the public." She works separately from the newsroom, and responds to listener comments and complaints. She'll ask why certain editorial decisions are made at NPR, and explain the process to listeners in her blog posts. She'll also make recommendations for language NPR should use when reporting on controversial issues, such as abortion and immigration

A recent Columbia Journalism Review article found that Jensen is the last remaining full-time public editor (formerly ombudsmen) at a major news outlet in America. 


Transcript:

This is a machine generated transcript, and may contain errors.

Laura Knoy:
From New Hampshire Public Radio I'm Laura Knoy and this is The Exchange.

Laura Knoy:
Our guest today is one of a kind a full time newsroom public editor or what used to be called an ombudsman. That person serving as the link between those who produced the news and those who consume it. We're talking this hour with Elizabeth Jensen public editor at National Public Radio. It's her job to represent listener concerns to NPR journalists and explain to the audience how decisions are made. Jensen is worried about the slide in public trust of news professionals and she sees her job as a way to bolster that trust through information critiques suggestions and transparency. So let's hear from you right now. As an NPR listener what comments concerns praise and criticism. Do you have our e-mail exchange at an nhpr.org again exchange at an export morgue use Facebook or Twitter at any NHPR exchange or calling 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7.

Laura Knoy:
And Elizabeth Jensen joins us from NPR in D.C. and Elizabeth thank you for being with us. It's great to have you. Thank you It's my pleasure. Well I tried to describe your role there but I'd love to hear from you. How would you describe your job to someone who had no idea what a public editor is.

Elizabeth Jensen:
I think you described and actually quite well I might steal some of your lines right. So I like to describe myself as a liaison between the the news consumers as you say between the audience and the newsroom. I don't work in the newsroom. So I am completely outside that that that system I have no authority. But I do make the newsroom aware of the concerns that the listeners have. The readers have we have airport as well. So I'm paid by NPR essentially to surface all the criticisms that come in that concerns things like corrections that maybe don't get made. And then I also explain back to the audience sort of how the newsroom works and and some transparency as to why they're making the decisions they do.

Laura Knoy:
So you are a staff member your paycheck is signed by NPR but you're also an outside critic gets a little bit awkward isn't it Elizabeth It is a little bit awkward.

Elizabeth Jensen:
So you're paid to sort of not be friendly with your colleagues will which is a little bit tricky because I have great respect for the journalists who are my colleagues here. I think they really do a terrific job. And you know we're all on the same side. We're all working for quality journalism. I think the difference is that you know I criticize from the outside and they work from the inside.

Laura Knoy:
So why do you think Elizabeth other newsrooms have eliminated this position. I remember when The Washington Post had an ombudsman the New York Times had an ombudsman big TV networks would sometimes have you know public editors or ombudsman as it used to be called. But from what I read you're now the only one.

Elizabeth Jensen:
Right. So the rationale that the other news organizations have given is that Twitter social media has really replaced the criticism function if you will excuse me. You know that. So if a news organization makes a mistake that news organization is going to hear about it within seconds on Twitter. Twitter Twitter's very very good for that kind of rapid response. A public editor has a little bit of a different function. So I'm in the newsroom in the sense that I'm in the building I am on staff and my job is more to sort of explains why if something went wrong to it to offer corrections corrections to course corrections I guess I would call them to say you know you might want to think about doing this differently because the audience really is not perceiving the journalism in the way that you mean it to no course correct.

Laura Knoy:
Twitter is interesting. Yeah. What's the difference between course correction and oh sorry we said someone was a Republican when they're really a Democrat.

Elizabeth Jensen:
Well NPR has a corrections editor. We have a standards editor Mark Memmott who does a terrific job that is not my role. I mean I can pass along a correction request but it's not my job to say this needs to be corrected. That's that's the newsroom's role. My job is more to say you know here's a good example. So NPR has been moving into more of a format of live interviews. This has posed challenges for the audience. I think in some ways the audience hasn't always heard the live interviews in the way that the newsroom would like them to. And so my job I feel is to say you know this is the way you're being heard.

Elizabeth Jensen:
You need to think about this and maybe make some changes.

Laura Knoy:
So broad issues of how the audience is perceiving the way that the news is presented and less about you know again you. You gave the capital of Missouri is the wrong place for something like that.

Elizabeth Jensen:
Exactly. Exactly.

Laura Knoy:
Just real quick though what are your thoughts about on air corrections mistakes are made especially when you're on deadline. I understand that. What's the policy. NPR takes on issuing a correction on the air.

Elizabeth Jensen:
Well they do very few of them actually. And I have been critical of that over my years so I've been here four and a half years. I think that NPR needs to do more of the corrections on air there. Their rationale is that the people who heard the mistake will not hear the correction. You know people don't listen for two hours in general. Some people do listen to the full two hours of a news magazine but many many. The vast majority don't. So their point is that unless it's a major mistake they're not going to correct it on air that they will they do correct errors quite regularly. And I think they're very good about correcting errors but they do it online and at NPR dawg under a link called corrections. It's easy to find if listeners and want to find the corrections it's pretty easy it's at the bottom there's a link at the bottom of the home page. But for transparency sake for. For best practices sake for just quality journalism I think that the corrections more the corrections need to be made on air. They disagree. So that's that's how the roll works so I can say what I think and what listeners think and they get to do what they want.

Laura Knoy:
That's interesting so how does it work then. Elizabeth there is an example right there when you agree with the listener criticism in this instance you feel like on air corrections should be made on air you make a suggestion to the NPR team and what happens next.

Elizabeth Jensen:
Well you know sometimes they will take my suggestions and sometimes they won't. So. You know I have an on air excuse me I have an online column so I sometimes like to say that the you know the role is based on the the forcefulness of my argument right. Can I marshal the argument can I can I make a forceful enough case on behalf of the audience that something should change and you know sometimes it takes time. And they have made changes not just me but you know the past ombudsman at NPR. You know I've one of the examples is labeling of opinion content. I think NPR has made some changes in the past couple of years on the way that they label opinion content. For example on social media based on things I've written.

Laura Knoy:
So sometimes they agree sometimes they disagree. The example of only a corrections. You know they disagreed with you on that right. But another example is a birth where you know you heard from an overwhelming number of listeners. You made your argument. You represented that listener concern and changes were made based on what you presented.

Elizabeth Jensen:
Mm hmm. Mm hmm. One of the issues that I dealt with I guess a couple of years ago this started was there was a lot of misinformation NPR has moved to a model of live interviews on air. So it used to be they would do tape reports the news cycle is such that that news is changing overnight. Right. So you could sort of leave for the day at 6:00 p.m. and think that sort of one thing was happening and then at 8:00 p.m. you'd have a tweet from the president and then the news would change and so NPR really moved to a model of doing many more live interviews. The problem was that in these live interviews sometimes you would have a guest from the outside who was giving misinformation and that's a problem because if the host doesn't catch the misinformation when it said during that live interview then you have the possibility that you know errors are going out and misunderstandings are left. And so I wrote a column saying you know NPR needs to figure out a way to really deal with this. And they did they eventually found a way to they now include a lot of times when they do a live interview though include 30 seconds or 45 seconds at the end and they'll have the beat reporter or another correspondent from NPR who will come on and will say hey this is what I heard or here's the context or on the off chance that there was a mistake then they can correct the mistake right there. So the correction if you will stays with the error.

Laura Knoy:
So they're doing more live interviews on programs like Morning Edition because the news cycle moves so quickly so that's the the hope is that you stay on top of this incredibly fast moving news cycle that we're in now. Right. The problem you seem to be saying is Elizabeth for listeners is they only hear they feel like they only hear one side they hear the host sounding biased because the host is trying to ask pushback questions. Politicians sometimes say things that are stretching the truth so to put it so there is an attempt to at least mitigate some of those problems. What about moving back to those you know excellent NPR reported pieces on the news where they talked to you know two or three or four people and you hear from all sides why isn't there more of that. And then you won't have this problem with live interviews with you know partisan types.

Elizabeth Jensen:
Right. Right. So that has been a debate inside the newsroom. I think there are some who would like NPR to do more of that. I think we've we've we've been tracking the number of live interviews and it seems to have dropped off a little bit recently. But again I mean there's a there are two reasons One is that the news just really in order to stay on top of it. It really does need to be live. I think the other rationale that they give is that radio is valuable exactly for its immediacy and I understand that. You know we like to its live radio we're here and you can react in real time. But again you have to make sure that the journalism doesn't suffer as a result and that the facts stay the facts and listeners come away with a full understanding of the issue.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah and it's trickier doing it live for sure.

Elizabeth Jensen:
It is tricky right. And everyone has to be on the top of their game.

All right let's go to our listeners Elizabeth. And then I definitely want to ask you what you're hearing from people about what they want to hear more of on NPR what they maybe want to hear and less of again exchange listeners it's your chance to. Talk with Elizabeth Jensen. She's NPR's public editor she's been there for almost five years acting as the listener liaison to the NPR newsroom. So here's a chance to give us your comments observations praise criticism for NPR's public editor. Our number here in The Exchange is 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. Our email exchange at an NHPR morgue. Once again exchange at an NHPR morgue. And Elizabeth let's take a call from Portsmouth where Tim is on the line. Hi Tim. Thanks for calling in.

Caller:
Go ahead. Good morning. Morning and thanks for taking my call. So I have this wonderful story about the ombudsman for The Boston Globe whom I knew very well years ago I lived in Stratham and I had a subscription to The Boston Globe delivered to the house every morning. Well one day one spring I read this editorial that was particularly aggravating to me it was about the daylight savings time and that's a sensitive issue with me. Need to go into it any further and I did the classic thing for the Ombudsman. I emailed the ombudsman who is a wonderful woman I can't remember her name. She'd worked for the globe for a long time and I said what's up with this guy. He wrote this editorial first of all if you read the editorial you would think that by an act of Congress the whole astronomical alignment changed and we actually did receive an extra hour of daylight daylight when we went to daylight savings time.

Laura Knoy:
So what response did you get from the Ombudsman Tim.

Caller:
Well I got a great response from the ombudsman and she explained to me that that particular writer perhaps was not a morning person did not care for he actually complained about the sound of birds waking him up and that he probably worked late at night because he worked for the newspaper and the people at the newspaper work late at night and that that's why he hated daylight savings time OK. That was great. A few months later I had reason to call her because the Boston Globe at this point she'd given me her phone number the Boston the Boston Red Sox won the World Series OK. And here I was in Stratham New Hampshire and the paper never came and I called up the ombudsman and I said the paper never came to the paper the first time the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in like 100 years or whatever it was. And the paper didn't come. And she said I'm so sorry Tim but all of the first editions went out and stayed in Massachusetts. And whenever shipped to New Hampshire and two days later in the mail I got the first edition.

Laura Knoy:
Wow that is customer service. Tim what a great call. You know it just strikes me. Hearing him talk. Thank you so much Tim that you kind of have the opportunity to develop a relationship with listeners.

Elizabeth Jensen:
I do and I actually love Ann. I have quite a few people who write me regularly. You know we got 8000 10000 e-mails a year so it's not always possible to answer all of them. We do try to answer the vast majority of them. But I do I do love sort of hearing from people hearing from people regularly I love it when sort of we explain things to people and they'll write back and say oh I didn't realize that's you know that's how it works or that's why you're doing what you're doing or. Yeah. That's one of the best parts of the job.

Laura Knoy:
How do most listeners communicate with you. Is it still on e-mail or you're getting a lot on social media. Do people still call you on the old fashioned telephone. How does it work.

Elizabeth Jensen:
Both all of the email and. Well not not phone calls we just we found that we just don't have the staff resources to take phone calls so. Right. So my office is me. We have an editorial researcher Juliet and wonderful intern this I'm really honored but that's a lot of emails to be answering. Just just just the three of us. So and usually it's just two of us so we do have a phone line where people can leave a message but we're just not able to to answer it and sure to return phone calls.

Laura Knoy:
Well I want to let our listeners know too that we've got links on our Web site today so you can if you want to be in contact with Elizabeth later you can do so just go to our Web site and NHPR pork slash exchange. You know I looked a lot at your blog yesterday Elizabeth and it's so interesting to see the wide array of issues that you tackle and we'll get into some of those in a moment but just more broadly judging from your columns lack of trust in media overall seems to be a key issue for you it comes up a lot in your writing. What do you think Elizabeth might help improve trust in media broadly or at NPR specifically. What do you think.

Elizabeth Jensen:
Right. All right so so the numbers are worrying. The trust of media figures have been have been dropping steadily and reached a low a couple of years ago I think it bounced back up a little bit in the past year or two.

Elizabeth Jensen:
You know there are best practices that a number of groups have been trying to enunciate that newsrooms ought to follow in terms of sort of maintaining that trust. It's things like having a corrections policy which NPR does having a public editor which very few organizations do. But ultimately that speaks to transparency.

Elizabeth Jensen:
So a news or news organization ought to be able to explain to its audience how they work and why they make the decisions they do.

Laura Knoy:
Well and again that all boils down to your job and coming up Elizabeth. We'll get into some of the common critiques that you hear from listeners that choice of language that NPR reporters use the way certain words are pronounced and then just more broadly. I'd love to hear from you what people say they want to hear more of what they want to hear less of all that's coming up. Plus your questions and comments so keep them coming 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. Email is exchange at an NHPR board. Use Facebook or Twitter at an NHPR exchange. More with Elizabeth. Elizabeth Jensen in just a moment. This is The Exchange on an NHPR.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange I'm Laura Knoy today NPR's public editor Elizabeth Jensen is with us. It's her job to represent the listeners voice in the NPR newsroom. And so exchange listeners we're taking your questions comments concerns. What do you like what don't you like about the way NPR covers the news. Send us an email exchange it and NHPR dawg once again exchange at an NHPR board. You can use Facebook or Twitter. It's an NHPR exchange or you can give us a call 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7 1 889 2 and NHPR. Elizabeth how do listeners feel about the balance of stories that they hear the daily political news out of Washington versus the rest of daily life. You know in the rest of the country how do listeners feel about that these days.

Elizabeth Jensen:
Mm hmm. Well I think the e-mails that we got say basically they think there's too much Washington. We get quite a few comments from people who just really would like to hear less about the administration sort of hear less of the news filtered through you know the the Washington view if you will and and and more from across the country.

Laura Knoy:
You talked recently with the new senior vice president for news at NPR Nancy Barnes. It was a post you did recently and she said she'd like to quote dial back incremental updates. Those are her words and the sort of drip drip drip daily politics of Washington you know so it seems like she kind of agrees with you there.

Elizabeth Jensen:
Well do you think a little less right. I think so. I you know it's a it's a hard balance. So it's easy to sort of say that in the broad strokes but then you comes down to OK are we going to cover this story or are we going to get criticized if we don't cover this story. It's true that when NPR does not cover some incremental update I hear from listeners too. So it's not possible to satisfy everyone and not everyone would make the same decision that the newsroom does or doesn't. But yeah I think that the goal as I understand it from her is to sort of focus more time on the if you if you do less on the sort of little incremental stories that opens up more time for the bigger stories.

Laura Knoy:
Well and she also said she wants more across the country emphasis less you know East Coast West Coast and really more placing people reporters editors broadly across the country because I'm guessing that's another critique you've heard from listeners right.

Elizabeth Jensen:
Absolutely especially from people sort of outside the outside the beltway if you will who really are interested and in more news from from their region. So NPR has been in the middle of for the past couple of years really working on bolstering the relationship between Member stations the newsrooms of member stations and the the national newsroom which is based here in D.C. figuring out ways to get more reports from those local journalists on the air on the national newsmagazines. They've done a lot of strong work with that and I'm hoping to write about that soon. I think that it's a I'm a fan of the work that they've been trying to do and I think it'll be good for listeners.

Laura Knoy:
Well and speaking of listeners let's go back to ours here in New Hampshire Elizabeth Alex in Concord writes Sometimes when I tell people that I heard something on NPR they say that they don't listen to NPR because it's so left wing or that I must be a liberal because I listen to NPR personally. Alex says I see NPR's being non-partisan. I think you tell the truth without spin but not obviously everyone sees it that way. Is it a public editor's job to combat that perception. And if so how do you do it. Alex it's a great question what do you think Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Jensen:
Interesting. So we label all the concerns that come into our office and political bias is the top concern that we hear about. But what's been interesting to me in the past couple of years sort of the numbers are almost equal not quite. People who think NPR has a liberal bias and people who think NPR has a conservative bias that they're not tough enough on the administration. So we hear it from both sides that of course doesn't necessarily mean that NPR is doing something right of it from both sides. But I do think it speaks a little bit to what we were talking about earlier.

Elizabeth Jensen:
Not everyone hears every two hours of every newsmagazine. So NPR puts on six hours of of live newsmagazine programming every day between Morning Edition and here now and all things. Ah that's a lot of time to listen. So you're not going to hear every interview and so a lot of times we'll we'll we'll hear from people who say Oh you only talked to Democrats or you only talk to Republicans. Well so we will send out links and we'll say you know did you hear this. Maybe you didn't hear this interview or we tried to take sort of a broad view if you will. At one point we were getting so many complaints of this nature that we went back and tracked tracked down six months worth of political interviews. We tried to figure out you know whether it was a Republican or a Democrat or something else being interviewed. And after six months the numbers were essentially even they were off by one or two. So you know NPR makes an effort to hear from multiple perspectives it doesn't always work out maybe on a month to month or week to week or day to day basis.

Elizabeth Jensen:
But over the long term I think they really do make an effort to hear multiple perspectives.

Laura Knoy:
So given that research that you just cited and yet given the concerns that you hear from listeners and you're right you know most listeners are not glued to their radio for two hours a day. What could NPR do on its end to at least signal listeners.

Elizabeth Jensen:
We hear you know that's a good word signal. I have suggested that one way to do it would be to just be better about saying hey you know what. We had an interview with a Democrat on this issue yesterday. Here's an interview with a Republican. Or you can find the wide terrain wide array of perspectives on this issue at NPR dawg. Just something to say on air. We are talking to multiple people with multiple perspectives and and and we know you can't hear them all but if you search them out they're there.

Laura Knoy:
So just a couple words really to let folks know. You know last week when we spoke to a Republican operative he said such and such that signals to the listener. Oh they spoke to Republican operative last week. OK right so right. Simple little changes like that right.

Elizabeth Jensen:
And you know we look from the newsroom's perspective each word counts. There's very little time and two hours sounds like a lot but actually when you boil it down it isn't always a lot of time and they heart you know they they kind of cling to every sort of word and sentence and second of airtime that they have I guess you would know that in radio. So I understand why they don't want to always take time to say that our hearts go back to our listeners.

Laura Knoy:
And again the number here in The Exchange for you to talk with Elizabeth Jensen She's NPR's public editor again it's her job to serve as a liaison between NPR listeners and the reporters and editors who produce the news. It's your chance to ask her whatever you want to ask make whatever comment or critique you have about NPR productions. The number one 889 2 6 4 7 7 email exchange at an NHPR ya dot org. And Elizabeth back to the phones. Dave's calling from Henniker. Hi Dave you're on the air.

Laura Knoy:
Welcome.

Caller:
Thank you Laura and welcome Eleanor. Thank you for taking this time. I'm concerned about not the people of a wide range of opinions but people who listen. But the general sense I have throughout the country is that conservatives believe that an NHPR PR or New Hampshire meant National Public Radio is liberal. And I'm wondering what has been done to survey people not listeners but the country in general and then use something other than your radio stations to get the word out about this wonderful ballot that I do believe it exists.

Laura Knoy:
Really interesting Dave. So Elizabeth you know how do you reach those people who will not listen to public radio because of the bias issue that you raised earlier. That might be outside your purview but it's a great question.

Elizabeth Jensen:
It is it it is outside my purview I like to think that my role is you know to address these issues in the sense that you know to the extent that people write and say they have concerns or you know I'll do an interview. You know I do a lot of radio interviews around the country. Yeah. I don't know how you reach non listeners and how you counter that.

Elizabeth Jensen:
But. You know it's it's a tricky issue.

Laura Knoy:
Well Dave thank you and I know there are lots of people sort of on the marketing and audience enhancement end of the business who are definitely looking at the question you ask. So thank you very much. Jake writes in he says especially in relation to wars and foreign policy media organizations act as stenographers for government power. They simply repeat government propaganda uncritically or allow guests to do the same. Hosts never seem to question false narratives and often listening to NPR. It takes a listener to call in and correct a guest when the host should be calling it out. Jake thank you so much for the email. And Elizabeth is this something that you hear from listeners who contact you right.

Elizabeth Jensen:
So when when I talk about political bias that's exactly those who who say that NPR has a bias towards conservatives if you will or towards power I guess as this this listener is putting it I would push back on that from my perspective listening to a lot of NPR interviews I think the hosts do a pretty good job of pushing back. I don't think every interview is perfect. No one is perfect no journalist is live interviews are difficult you know you have to be prepared and I think the hosts are but sometimes someone will say something and and you know you get in this sort of weird dynamic where you don't want to argue with someone on air because that's really not fun for the listener to to to listen to.

Elizabeth Jensen:
I mean you don't want to wake up to people who are simply arguing on the air. So the hosts have a tricky job to sort of respectfully push back. NPR's NPR's ethos is to be respectful to the people in interviews on the air. So it's a it's a tricky job. The hosts have I think they do try to push back when they hear something that's wrong. You know every interview isn't perfect but I think overall they do a pretty good job.

Laura Knoy:
Well I understand Jake's concern it was certainly something that came up in the run up to the Afghanistan war that no one you know seemed in the media and outside seem to criticize that decision in Iraq to the Iraq war. There's a lot of media mea culpa afterwards so. Jake you know I definitely understand your concerns because this has come up in the past so I really appreciate you writing in and toward your point about you know saying hosts do push back. Nancy writes in she says I'm a great fan of NPR and the quality of the news. On occasion however there is an interviewer on the afternoon news show that is so dogged in their interview technique that it's almost offensive. I sometimes feel they are bullying the interviewee into whatever answer they want. It is not a technique that I expect from NPR. Nancy thank you very much. And Elizabeth you know I'm guessing you hear this a lot to both Morning Edition and All Things Considered fans.

Elizabeth Jensen:
All right. So so there you go. That's it. It's actually a really good counterpoint to the earlier emailer. You know it's a very very fine line. So you want to hold the person you're interviewing to account. You don't want them to. You know say something that's wrong or evade the question. How do you do that. That's where we're you know in a way that's respectful. Without sounding like you're bullying it it's very tricky. And you know so for every listener who who thinks it's bullying I'll get another e-mail who says hooray. Someone you know you're holding me thanks for being so right. You're holding the guests to account. So it's it's a very tricky you're fine line and people hear things differently. So I do hear that complaint quite a bit.

Laura Knoy:
Well Nancy thank you very much for that e-mail again. You can send us an e-mail exchange at an NHPR board. Your comments questions concerns for NPR's public editor Elizabeth Jensen. Our welcome exchange at any NHPR broad where you can give us a call 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. Again looking at your blog Elizabeth and there's a link on our Web site. If folks want to check it out one of the biggest critiques that you get from listeners seems to be just the choice of words that reporters use. They don't like the words chosen to describe a group of people or a situation. What issues Elizabeth seemed to elicit this the most.

Laura Knoy:
Oh it depends on the bands on the day.

Elizabeth Jensen:
It depends on the day right at the moment.

Elizabeth Jensen:
We're getting a lot of e-mails about the language around immigration. NPR has a just a very broad policy that articulated again by the standards editor not to use words that label people. So the NPR does not use the word it's illegal immigrant. Right. So you don't call someone illegal you can say they are in the country illegally. That is clear and that's accurate. But you're not labeling them as an illegal if you will. So we're hearing a lot about that. I mean not everyone agrees with that policy but I think it's sound. You know it treats people with respect while also describing their actions. Abortion we hear a lot of concerns from both sides of the debate about abortion about the language that's used and I wrote a column recently just really articulating how NPR got to the standards it does use and around abortion. You know we hear grammar concerns we hear when and when a person makes a mistake grammatical mistake in the air will we'll hear from we'll hear from the listeners so they like NPR to have strong grammatical standards which I think is appropriate here.

Laura Knoy:
Fair enough. But in terms of the language you use and boy we could spend a whole hour on that immigration abortion you have posted you know long columns really diving into the thought process and the thinking and so forth. So that's they're available for folks. I do wonder Elizabeth if it would be useful at some point to just for you to go on Morning Edition and explain why this is the way it is or for Mark Memmott who I think is in charge of setting these policies for you to go on Morning Edition or All Things Considered and just say hey folks immigration's a hot topic a lot of people upset with the language that we use. Here's why. I mean do you guys ever do that you were marked minute.

Elizabeth Jensen:
I do not. I find it a little awkward.

Elizabeth Jensen:
I've been asked a couple of times to go on the shows. It's a little weird for me to sort of go on a show where I'm also charged with being a critic if you will. So I've always sort of said no but Mark Mark did occasionally when I first started here he was a guest on Weekend Edition Saturday where he would talk about the language choices. I always loved hearing those I think the listeners really really appreciated them and I wish they would do more of it.

Laura Knoy:
All right well here's another e-mail from. This is Ray in Dalton who says I understand the need to present both sides to certain issues especially politics. But when I hear certain individuals who are selected to be interviewed I change the station I will name a few. Hogan Gidley assistant press secretary and Representative James Jordan from Ohio races. What is the criteria for the selection process. Ray there's a couple people that I hear routinely chosen as go tos on Morning Edition All Things Considered as well and I've wondered about that too so thank you for the e-mail. Can you shine some light on this Elizabeth right.

Elizabeth Jensen:
I can't speak to those specifics except that I would say that you know NPR talks to the administration they talk to the White House they put in requests to hear from the White House about their perspective on an issue and Hogan Gidley as is a spokesperson for the White House. I'm not sure what this listeners particular concern is with him but I think it's appropriate certainly to talk to the White House people you know the newsroom's job is to talk to the people who are who are making the decisions and ask them for their rationale. There have been some Krinsky concerns and criticisms raised that there are some Congress people who are perhaps too often heard on some of the newsmagazines. It's you know part of that might be an issue of just logistics.

Elizabeth Jensen:
So you know a newsroom can make a request but you can't force someone to go on the radio or you know you talk to the people who are available and sometimes that means people who are willing to get up at 5 a.m..

Laura Knoy:
All right. Well we will talk a lot more after a short break. Thank you for that e-mail. And welcome back to the phones in just a moment. We welcome your comments questions praise criticism for how NPR editors and reporters present the news because our guest this hour is Elizabeth Jensen. She's NPR's public editor. It's her job to be the liaison between you the listener and the NPR newsroom. So here's a chance give us a call 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. We'll be right back.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange I'm Laura Knoy. Tomorrow on our show millennials in New Hampshire's housing market. We'd love to hear your experiences with this topic before the show so send them in exchange at an NHPR morgue and then join us tomorrow morning live at 9. This hour NPR's public editor Elizabeth Jensen is with us. She is the link between NPR listeners and the reporters and editors who produce the news so let's hear your questions comments or concerns send them by email exchange at an NHPR board or give us a call 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. And Elizabeth right back to our listeners. Let's go to Greg in Portsmouth. Hi Greg. Thanks for calling in. Go ahead you're on the air.

Caller:
Hi good morning. I'm a slightly left of center pro-life Democrat and I listen to NPR all the time but I also watched Fox News on television. I was kind of surprised the other day. Mara Liasson on Fox News I know this has been addressed online but I was wondering if Elizabeth would comment on Mara Liasson position kind of betwixt and between two worlds. Thank you.

Laura Knoy:
Gregg thank you very much for calling in. Elizabeth have you heard from others on this.

Elizabeth Jensen:
Sure we do hear about that occasionally I think my predecessor wrote a column about it. I have not written about it. So Mara is an NPR employee. Let's let's be clear about that some people seem to be confused and they think that she actually is a Fox employee. Excuse me. Her role there as I understand it is to be an analyst so she's not giving opinions. She is really analyzing the news. There is a lot of sort of confusion about what is analysis and what is opinion. People do hear things differently sometimes. But NPR's policy is that its correspondents can go on other news organizations you know appear on other I don't know CNN MSNBC Fox News as long as they are not giving opinions but they are simply analyzing their beats.

Laura Knoy:
So that's a really interesting question and word choice there should reporters be analysts or should they just report this happened this happened this happened right.

Elizabeth Jensen:
So excuse me. You know this is an issue over the years. There are a lot of particularly with digital media and the Internet world there are a lot of places to get straight news. You can get an AP feed if you want. You can read the news you can get your headlines on social media you can get them on a push alert to your phone if you want to know just what happened. News organizations overall have moved to a model where they're doing much more analysis of sort of what does this headline mean what you know this happened and and what does it mean what are the implications here.

Laura Knoy:
Well it's interesting and Greg I appreciate the call and we got a similar e-mail from Molly in New London who says I just want to chime in on the interview discussion to say that I really appreciate that in the last year or two after an interview the interview were well frequently then talked to Mara Liasson or another analyst to have them bring out the salient details and also disagree perhaps with what has been said or the facts of what has been said. Molly says that's very helpful and it keeps the interviewer from having to argue with the person they're interviewing while at the same time giving the listener the benefit of analysis and the facts of the situation. So Greg thank you again for calling in and thank you for that. Email Molly Christina from Goff's town says on the subject to those who say NPR's two left leaning which is something I hear a lot something to consider is that many conservatives simply don't believe or approve of certain things that NPR treats as scientific truth climate change being the easiest example. Christina says I think it's a bit of a lost cause trying to appeal to them. However I will say that a recent story about Trump's Fourth of July spending was nakedly partisan which deeply disappointed moderate listeners like myself. Thank you Christina for the comment and I want to ask you what she says about the NPR treats climate change a scientific truth. You have written about this Elizabeth sort of talking about how you cover these issues how you try to hear from array of views but not engage in what's called false equivalency so just give us a little more there please.

Elizabeth Jensen:
Right. So false equivalency is when you're sort of giving equal time to views that aren't supported by scientific fact. So look I've only been here for 2 1/2 years. I would say we did hear concerns that you know a decade ago NPR might have put on more what you were called climate skeptics climate deniers. I can't speak to that I don't I don't know if that's true or not.

Elizabeth Jensen:
But I'm happy to say that NPR does not do that these days and hasn't since I've been here. You know the role of a newsroom is to put on facts and not confuse the audience with with multiple facts and say to the audience how do you decide yourself what the facts are. You know you can say you can decide what your opinion is on those facts but the facts have to be very clear. So NPR I think works hard not to engage in that kind of false equivalence.

Laura Knoy:
So how do you report on those people who are not concerned about climate change. You don't believe that it's happening. How do you provide the audience a full picture without engaging in again what you call false equivalency.

Elizabeth Jensen:
Right. So you see you can report on the fact that there's this this undercurrent or these beliefs exist. But the you know you don't necessarily give them what's called a platform I hear that a lot. So I don't give a platform. Don't give an open microphone and unfettered access to the airwaves to someone who is going to share information that is factually incorrect.

Laura Knoy:
Let's go back to our listeners Reeve is calling from Wolfeboro Berle. Hi Reeve. You're on the air. Go ahead.

Caller:
Good morning. I adore NPR. Listened to it constantly and I think the biggest reason is because I really want facts. And you guys either have all the facts or make corrections and try. So awesome job. Well the only area that I have a question about for you at the moment is repeatedly prior to the debates.

Caller:
There was all of the announcers were referring to the top three or four and then we'd say and six others. And there are two ways that people get really elected. Name recognition money and I'll actually add another the understanding of their forums though. Quinn NPR says and six others. I feel as though you have completely voted. And I know you don't mean to do that. I know that you really try to avoid horse race announcing but I'm longing for more. First of all naming all of the ones who've gotten that far and secondly give us analysis of their ideas. I haven't come up with a decision who I'm going to vote for yet at all in the primary it will be a Democrat. We have great many to choose from. But I want more understanding of their differences. I'd like analysis of the of Yang's universal basic income I'd like a whole program on that so we can understand some of these decisions.

Laura Knoy:
So Reeve. I'm really glad you called. And just from the exchanges perspective in NH PR I'm used to it. I know this isn't satisfying but there is a ton there's a ton online both from my show and also the newsroom. You know looking at backgrounds Rick Ganley is done a series of interviews at the candidates. We've had as many candidates as possible on. So let's not to put you off or say that you're wrong but I do want to let you and everybody else know that there's a ton online. And also with 20 candidates I kind of want your ideas Reeve actually as a listener. How do you suggest we give you the depth that you want and deserve. Given that there are 20 people running or 23 I think at this point.

Caller:
Well I think. Are you asking me.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah.

Caller:
Yeah OK I think you are in a difficult position with this many. I just think it's it's important not to pre call to stand by sticking to just the ones who already have the money for the. And the name recognition and. a little bit of comparison of many of them hold similar positions. And it would be it's good to take that position. I think maybe cover an issue at a time like education or the UPI or climate change that would be huge to know what are their positions and who are they working with. So maybe if you did a little bit less individual candidate and a little bit more on this issue who's standing where that would be coming.

Laura Knoy:
Well we thank you very much for jumping in today. We really appreciate it. And boy Elizabeth 2020 again. I know you're not the political editor but I'm guessing you have heard similar concerns to Reeves that they don't want anybody at this point to say top candidates feels unfair there's 20 23 maybe 24 running and it's still really early right.

Elizabeth Jensen:
Right now it is a challenge for the newsroom. And we have heard quite a few of these concerns. Specifically we're hearing them from supporters of one candidate or the other they feel that their candidate has not gotten sufficient airtime. You know to name the the position of all 20 23 24 candidates in a news story that would take up the entire three minutes of the news story the way the the newsmagazines work.

Elizabeth Jensen:
I'm not quite sure what the answer is I would say that I also think it's early it's very early so the first primary is not till late February is the beginning of February right at the newsroom I think has been rolling out these interviews as they go along. So we had heard six weeks ago a couple two months ago we were hearing quite a few concerns that Tulsi Gabbard wasn't getting enough airplay on NPR and NPR just the politics podcast just did an interview with her this week and I think that I don't know if that's in the field already but certainly the excerpts have aired on the radio on the newsmagazine. So my sense is that the newsroom is trying to get to people and it's taking time but you also want to be thoughtful right.

Elizabeth Jensen:
So you don't want to just have two seconds about what is their position on Medicare for all you really want to sort of give that candidate their due and be able to go a bit in-depth.

Laura Knoy:
Well and I appreciate the comment Reeve and you know I know it's not as satisfying to say there's a lot online or so on but there is a lot of there are a lot of resources there. If folks want to since you mentioned the NPR Politics Podcast and I'm a fan I would like to ask you about podcasts in your role as NPR's public editor. How do you approach NPR produced podcasts with that public editor head on Elizabeth because you've written that you have quote complicated feelings about podcasts.

Elizabeth Jensen:
All right. So the newsroom standard is that the the the podcast have to hold to the same journalism ethical standards that all NPR content does. You know the challenge is that there's a tone that's different right. So people come to a podcast not expecting to hear a news magazine they want to hear engage me engaging conversation often it's a little bit more informal. You know so sometimes you you sort of slip right. So the the standards editor I think has a has the challenge if you will sort of saying OK fine you can be informal but you still need to keep to the language standards.

Elizabeth Jensen:
You know some of the newscasts using use. Sorry some of the podcast use music underneath their content that is usually not done to enhance a newsmagazine interview. That is one area where I think he has allowed some changes. But you know it's it's difficult because you want people to to listen and they come with different expectations. But you also want to keep the NPR brand of journalism held to the same standard.

Laura Knoy:
So podcasts from NPR are held to the same journalistic and ethical standards as any standard for minute story on Morning Edition. That's right. So some podcasts that I've listened to do include swearing which we are definitely not allowed to do in broadcast NPR about that. Yeah. How do you feel about the use of curse words in an NPR sponsored podcast. Is that allowed.

Elizabeth Jensen:
I'm not familiar with actually any examples where they have I'd have to go back and listen. You know again the standards editors pretty made it pretty clear that the language standards are the same. So you can be more informal in your conversation but if he has approved words that you can't hear on the radio I don't know about it I don't doubt you know no I'm not suggesting that necessarily NPR podcasts.

Laura Knoy:
Oh I see. But more widely. Yeah I can't specifically say that wherever it is an NPR podcast but it's just running with the standards where they are. Yeah.

Elizabeth Jensen:
No it's you know it's tricky so though we were talking about that in my office just yesterday the pop culture has changed there's a you know things are a little bit more informal the language has changed. How much does a news organization like NPR have an obligation to stick to the older standards if you will. We get concerned. One of the reasons concerns we had was NPR's run to pictures of Cardi B. The performer on the website and we got concerns from listener readers who thought maybe that the the pictures themselves were inappropriate. You know I think that's a it's a question of sort of changing societal norms and not everyone changes at the same time. So it's you know a newsroom has to balance all of that. And and you know stay on top of the pop culture without sort of offending other listeners and readers.

Laura Knoy:
Well getting back to this issue that I know is a big concern for you Elizabeth and again that's the trust between the public and the media speaking generally. Where do you think journalism has the most work to do when it comes to improving this trust between those who produce the news and those who listen or watch or read it.

Elizabeth Jensen:
Oh boy that's a big question. Easy question. Close out. Right exactly.

Elizabeth Jensen:
No I do think that more news organizations news organizations would be served more of them had the role of a public editor or an ombudsman. Transparency is huge. You know it's not going to satisfy everyone. And you know people people are some people just don't want to trust. Right. So there they are sort of hard wired just to to be cynical about the news and the people who are producing it. But I think transparency goes a long way and I wish more news organizations would adopt this role.

Laura Knoy:
Your position as public editor for NPR ends in January of 2020 less than half a year away.

Laura Knoy:
So the clock is ticking. What's your advice for your successor. ELIZABETH Oh dear.

Elizabeth Jensen:
You know it's a it's a it's a wonderful role. It's an overwhelming role. It's a you know it's a lot.

Elizabeth Jensen:
Listeners and readers have lots and lots of concern. So I don't know. I'll be anxious and happy to see what the new person brings to the role.

Laura Knoy:
Develop a thick hide maybe.

Elizabeth Jensen:
Well that too.

Laura Knoy:
It's been a really fun talking to Elizabeth. Thank you so much.

Elizabeth Jensen:
Thank you. My pleasure.

Laura Knoy:
That's NPR Public Editor Elizabeth Jensen. Before she became public editor about five years ago she covered public broadcasting and media for The New York Times and The Columbia Journalism Review. Again if you want to find links to Elizabeth's columns and her blog go to our Web site and NHPR board slash exchange. The Exchange is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio. The engineers Dan Colgan are senior producers Allan Graham the producers are Jessica Hunt and Christina Phillips. Theme music was composed by Bob Lord and I'm Laura Knoy.

The views expressed in this program are those of the individuals and not those of NH PR its board of trustees or its underwriters. If you liked what you heard spread the word give us a review on Apple podcasts to help other listeners find us. Thanks.