KGOU

Elizabeth Jensen

Reporting is a process. One story often leads to another. On the rare occasion, more reporting calls an earlier story into question.

Thanksgiving cooking pieces roll out on the radio as reliably as the turkey centerpiece itself. Producers need holiday-themed content, and listener-cooks (like me) need new ideas. Cliché? Maybe, but it can be a win-win when done right. But that's the caveat: just as with the Thanksgiving bird, success is all in the execution.

Sexual "misconduct," "abuse," "assault," and "harassment." NPR has used all — sometimes multiple descriptors in the same story — to characterize the allegations that have been leveled against former Alabama judge and current Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore.

For some listeners, calling the allegations "misconduct" minimizes them.

Last week was extraordinarily difficult at NPR, as the top newsroom executive, Michael Oreskes, was forced to resign in the wake of profoundly unsettling allegations that he had engaged in multiple incidents of sexual harassment over the span of two decades, including while at NPR.

Oreskes had been at NPR since April 2015; his departure is yet another dramatic high-level staff change at an organization that had seen — until the last three years or so — a virtual revolving door of chief executives and heads of the news department.

In this week's Mailbag: praise for the way Morning Edition has been bundling fact-checking with its live interviews and questions about an All Things Considered interview with a CIA psychologist.

A New Way To Fact Check

NPR's recent announcement of a new wine club (a bottle of "All Grapes Considered" Malbec, anyone?) garnered largely

"Lone wolf" or "domestic terrorist"?

Sunday night's Las Vegas shooting brought a strong response from NPR's newsroom, but, as with any major breaking news story, listeners and readers had questions and complaints. Chief among them was how NPR referred to the now-dead gunman, a white man.

The investigative reporters at ProPublica turned up a disturbing story about Facebook "taking money to connect advertisers with anti-Semites," as Morning Edition host Rachel Martin phrased it last week. NPR's reporting on the story, however inadvertently, raised its own disturbing newsroom lapses.

Making a mistake is a pit-in-the-stomach fear of most good reporters. But how a news organization approaches corrections is one of the defining factors separating trustworthy journalism from the media pack. No news organization is going to be error-free, particularly as news cycles get ever faster, so trustworthy news organizations correct mistakes quickly and they don't try to hide them. To the contrary, they make any needed corrections prominently, giving audiences confidence that, overall, the news outlet's reporting is solid.

A Thursday Morning Edition interview with a Red Cross official and its companion online story (posted late Wednesday night) have prompted an outpouring of complaints to my office and NPR and on social media.

NPR listeners are a compassionate bunch. All week they have been emailing to say they are anxious to know what happened to 19-year-old Jada Wilson in northeast Houston, who on Sunday told Michel Martin of being trapped with her family in her grandmother's home in waist-deep water, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey flooding. As Martin noted, listeners could hear the water, seemingly lapping around her, in the background.

A year ago, NPR announced its decision to end commenting at the end of stories on NPR.org, terminating a form of audience engagement that had been a fixture of NPR's digital site since 2008. At the time, NPR executives told me they were investigating newer moderation systems that could eventually make it feasible to reintroduce the comments feature. (One reason behind the decision to end comments was a lack of staff resources to keep the comments from tipping into incivility.)

On June 18, NPR published an online-only review of Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America, a newly published nonfiction book by Duke University historian Nancy MacLean. NPR's reviewer praised the book for revealing a "clear and present danger" to the future of the country (the review is prominently excerpted on the book's Amazon page); reviewers at other publications did, as well.

The Ombudsman's mailbox last week included complaints about NPR's decision to use some foul language, and the choice of a particular interview subject. Here are some newsroom responses.

Why Some Foul Words, But Not Others?

NPR is changing the way it labels opinion content online next week. Readers of npr.org will be well served by this move, which will more clearly distinguish news content from pieces that express personal opinions or take sides on an issue.

Starting July 25, online content that is currently labeled as "Commentary" — including pieces on the 13.7: Cosmos & Culture blog and the NPR Ombudsman column — will instead be called "Opinion," highlighted in bright blue. Book, movie and television reviews will also get a new blue "Review" label.

On Here and Now Wednesday, sharp listeners caught NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik flatly stating that Donald Trump Jr. "knowingly lied" in July 2016 when asked about contact between his father's presidential campaign and Russian figures.

If the number of media mentions is an indicator, the National Dairy Council and affiliated organization the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy seemed to hit the equivalent of a marketing home run with a recent survey purporting to show that 7 percent of Americans believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows.

Good for them. I just don't think NPR should have played along.

Colorado Public Radio recently brought together a panel of news professionals in Denver to talk about journalism ethics. While a number of topics were touched upon, the allotted 90 minutes was hardly enough time to explore the many questions about how NPR and CPR journalists approach their work.

Last week, when former FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, he said at one point: "I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter."

That memo was a nonclassified set of notes he wrote detailing a meeting he had with President Trump.

NPR, like most other major news organizations, referred to what Comey did — asking a friend to share the memo with a reporter — as "leaking."

"Undocumented." "Obamacare." "Pro-life."

According to NPR's style guide, these words are to be avoided — or used sparingly — by NPR reporters and hosts when discussing the issues in which they are likely to come up (immigration, health care, abortion rights). But sharp listeners and readers note that all have been used in recent weeks, either on-air or online (by staff, not just by people being interviewed).

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