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Educating the public

Illustration by Carlos Carmonamedina
Carlos Carmonamedina for NPR Public Editor

One goal of journalism is educating the public. Whenever people leave a story or news report thinking "I didn't know that," the journalist has done a good job.

Sometimes when readers or listeners hear something they didn't know, their first reaction is, "That's not true, that's just wrong." Given how much misinformation and disinformation is out there, it's not surprising that some people are distrustful about the news.

This week we address a letter from an audience member who was certain that NPR misused the term "doula" in describing the work of an abortion doula. In answering the letter, we demonstrate a technique any reader or listener can use to determine if there is a mistake in a news report. First, read closely for additional information. (In this case, the source in the story offered robust confirmation that the term was indeed appropriate.) After that, you can read laterally, meaning you can look for other news stories that confirm or refute a fact. (A quick search turns up many other news stories about abortion doulas.)

Read on to see more details about how we addressed this concern.

We also spotlight two examples of good journalism, a story about one Ohio city's attempt to make houses more affordable, and a charming business story about an aging brand searching for modern relevance.


Here are a few quotes from the Public Editor's inbox that resonated with us. Letters are edited for length and clarity. You can share your questions and concerns with us through the NPR Contact page.

The work of abortion doulas

In response to the NPR story headlined "What it's like being an abortion doula in a state with restrictive laws," Peter Laberee wrote on Oct. 19: There is no such thing as an abortion doula. Doulas assist in births, not abortions.

Birth doulas may be the most widely known, but there are several types of doula services.

A doula is a person who provides support. Some doulas provide support before, during and after birth. Some full-spectrum doulas provide even more expansive support, including throughout the fertility process, and pregnancy loss and bereavement. And some doulas provide abortion support.

A July episode of Consider This from NPR also gave audience members an up-close look at the changing work of abortion doulas after the rollback of Roe v. Wade. Host Michel Martin acknowledged that "the concept of an abortion doula might not be familiar to many people." As Martin reported in the story, "abortion doulas provide emotional support and information for those navigating the experience of ending a pregnancy."

Martin interviewed Vicki Bloom, a full-spectrum doula, about how abortion doula work became accepted among health care providers. Bloom, who noted she has "been public as an abortion doula for many years," said the idea came from birth doulas who were exploring the broader work of reproductive justice.

In 2017, Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse wrote a story in which she observed an abortion doula training. Hesse wrote: "D.C. Doulas for Choice, a volunteer-based collective, believed pregnant women needed equal support if they decided not to become mothers at all, the facilitator explained. And so, if the aspiring doulas in this room made it through training, and apprenticed through a series of shadow shifts, then this is what they were signing up for: To be in a surgical room with a woman through one of the most intimate emotional experiences of her life; to hold her hand while she has an abortion."

In reporting these stories on abortion doulas, NPR joins other news outlets in sharing information and insights about this line of work, and thus educating its audience. — Kayla Randall and Amaris Castillo


The Public Editor spends a lot of time examining moments where NPR fell short. Yet we also learn a lot about NPR by looking at work that we find to be compelling and excellent journalism. Here we share a line or two about the pieces where NPR shines.

Hope for homeownership

In a recent digital piece , national correspondent Jennifer Ludden takes us to Cincinnati, where a local agency is fighting back against corporate landlords who are in part to blame for steep home costs that often price first-time buyers out of the market. The story and accompanying photos by Jeff Dean show the audience a potential solution to an issue occurring across the country. The compelling reporting and portraits feature people who were afraid that gentrification and inflation would force them out of the neighborhoods where they rented before this new program made homeownership there possible again. — Emily Barske

The best part of waking up?

NPR's Alina Selyukh recently reported an engaging story about how coffee brand Folgers is battling a reputation of being uncool by launching a new ad campaign targeting younger and thriftier coffee consumers. We hear from people who share honest opinions about the coffee product, and from the marketing head at Folgers' parent company about the thinking behind the new strategy. And, listeners are treated to a clip of the brand's decades-old catchy jingle, which, Selyukh said, "is possibly the most famous thing about Folgers." This is a business story made accessible to the audience. Stay until the end of the audio piece to hear the soothing sounds of coffee making. — Amaris Castillo

The Office of the Public Editor is a team. Editor Kayla Randall, reporters Amaris Castillo and Emily Barske and copy editor Merrill Perlman make this newsletter possible. Illustrations are by Carlos Carmonamedina. We are still reading all of your messages on Facebook, Twitter and from our inbox. As always, keep them coming.

Kelly McBride
NPR Public Editor
Craig Newmark Center for Ethics & Leadership at the Poynter Institute

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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