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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.

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.

In mid-December, NPR's website ran a story about the CIA's conclusion "that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election to help Donald Trump win." The story had this headline: "The Russian Hacking Kerfuffle: What We Do and Don't Know." The story was fine. But it was most definitely not about a simple "kerfuffle," which Merriam-Webster defines as a "disturbance, fuss." "Kerfuffle" was later replaced in the headline with the better word "controversy."

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.

It's rare that my office gets a complaint about the Friday StoryCorps segments on Morning Edition. The excerpts of interviews conducted between friends and loved ones (no NPR host or reporter involved) are most often poignant windows into other people's realities, as they discuss their life struggles, loves and journeys.

By any measure, the story that has been unfolding in North Dakota along the proposed route of the Dakota Access Pipeline since April is extraordinary. Thousands of people led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have gathered for months in largely peaceful protest against the $3.8 billion oil pipeline's route, arguing that it infringes on tribal lands and could put at risk their water supply, and that the tribe was not properly consulted in the planning process.

The news Sunday afternoon that Steve Bannon had been named chief strategist in President-elect Donald Trump's White House sparked renewed interest in a topic NPR covered this summer, the rise of the white nationalist movement, also referred to euphemistically as the "alt-right."

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?

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.

Scientific American reported last week on the disturbing practice known as a "close-hold embargo," where reporters are given advance access to an upcoming news-making announcement on the condition that they not seek outside perspective until the embargo is lifted.

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.

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."

Each week brings a steady stream of emails requesting that NPR devote more coverage to third party presidential candidates Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee, and Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee.

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