Not long after the controversy created when NPR Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos deconstructed the Native Foster Care Series, NPR has attempted to restrict the role of its ombudsman. While searching for a replacement for Mr. Schumacher-Matos, who would have left anyway as his three-year term was approaching an end, NPR posted a job description for the position that included the following language:
- “The NPR Ombudsman/Public Editor focuses on fact gathering and explanation, not commentary or judgment.”
- “The Ombudsman/Public Editor will then explain any errors without passing judgment…”
In other words, NPR wants its ombudsman to be a PR person that explains things and makes it look good, not someone that tells NPR when it is wrong. The parts in bold are a change from the prior job description. This change was highlighted by Jay Rosen in his blog and picked up on by others, including some local NPR affiliates that objected to the change. Long story short, NPR’s CEO Jarl Mohn admitted that the language was a mistake, and it has been removed from the job description.
Even more disturbing is the response from NPR executives behind the scenes before Mr. Mohn’s mea culpa. In a conference call with representatives of Minnesota Public Radio, NPR executives Kinsey Wilson and Margaret Low Smith criticized Rosen’s reporting and chastised local affiliates who questioned the language. Notably, these are the same (bad) executives that stood by the Native Foster Care Series while attaching the Ombudsman’s report and refusing to respond to specific criticisms of the series.
I am over two weeks late on this story, so much has already been written. I suggest the following for those who are interested:
- Jay Rosen: NPR Downgrades Its Ombudsman
- Joe Strupp (Media Matters): NPR Backs Off Planned “Downgrade” of Ombudsman
- Bob Collins (Minnesota Public Radio): NPR pushes back, says its not demoting ombudsman job
- Jeffrey Dvorkin: NPR Learns About (New) Media Accountability – The Hard Way