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Elizabeth Jensen takes us behind-the-scenes in her role as NPR's ombudsman

NPR's ombudsman, Elizabeth Jensen.
James Wrona
NPR's ombudsman, Elizabeth Jensen.

In January 2015, Elizabeth Jensen was appointed to a three-year term at NPR as the organization’s ombudsman. What does that mean? Otherwise known as the public editor, Jensen is the public’s representative to NPR, answering thousands of listener queries and criticisms.

Jensen stopped by St Louis on the Air Thursday while she’s in St. Louis to attend the national conference of the Public Radio News Directors Incorporated. She talked with host Don Marsh about challenges she faces in working to develop a closer relationship with news consumers.

“It’s a difficult time for journalism,” Jensen said. “The economic model is changing very quickly.”

"It's a difficult time for journalism. The economic model is changing very quickly."

In addition to the millions of public radio listeners who get their news from local stations, increasingly, younger audiences are getting their news through various apps, Facebook and Twitter, she said.

“I think it’s one of the joys of our news media ecosystem,” she said. “For many decades, the system was controlled by a few companies, and a few people.

“Today it’s almost a free for all. It can be challenging, but it can also be liberating for the news consumers.”

When listeners/readers question why they heard a report from a group that has a vested interest in a certain subject that contained facts or details that differed from NPR reports, Jensen said she tells them, “NPR has to rely on their own journalists and what they saw and what they vetted.

“People want things to be very clear, very quickly. (But) we have to take a step back and say we are not going to report what we don’t know.”

"NPR is great. We are working together to make it better."

  NPR reporters aren’t going to report as fact something that someone posted on social media, she said.

“As a news organization, sometimes we have to be very clear about this is our mission. This is what we do and what we don’t do.”

Although her title is “ombudsman,” Jensen said she sees her job as more of a “public editor.”

“I’m the liaison between the public and the newsroom. It goes two ways: I gather reaction from the audience, and I make sure that feedback has a voice in the newsroom. At the same time, I try to translate what has happened in the newsroom back to the public.

“Sometimes I have to criticize someone. Mistakes happen. I think ultimately, we really want to make great journalism. NPR is great. We are working together to make it better.”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Outreach specialist Linda Lockhart has been telling stories for most of her life. A graduate of the University of Missouri's School of Journalism, she has worked at several newspapers around the Midwest, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, as a reporter, copy editor, make-up editor, night city editor, wire editor, Metro Section editor and editorial writer. She served the St. Louis Beacon as analyst for the Public Insight Network, a product of Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media that helps connect journalists with news sources. She continues using the PIN to help inform the news content of St. Louis Public Radio. She is a St. Louis native and lives in Kirkwood.
Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.
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