Elizabeth Jensen, who has covered public media for Current and The New York Times, has been named ombudsman/public editor at NPR.
Elizabeth Jensen, who has covered public media for Current and The New York Times, has been named ombudsman/public editor at NPR. Credit: James Wrona.

NPR announced Monday Elizabeth Jensen will be its new public editor and ombudsman, replacing Edward Schumacher-Matos.

Jensen, a longtime reporter who has covered public media for The New York Times, Current and Columbia Journalism Review, says her career has positioned her well for the ombudsman role.

"My focus will definitely be narrower, but I've covered journalism ethics and decision-making for most of my career," Jensen told Poynter. "So it seems to me to be a continuation of that — it doesn't seem to be that much of a diversion."

Jensen recently covered the sunset of Bill Moyers' weekly series, “Moyers & Company” and Off-Broadway shows coming to a New York public television station.

Jensen will be active on social media and intends to contribute regularly to NPR's ombudsman blog in much the same way as her predecessor. She says she wants to wait until she gets into the job before she lays out a more detailed coverage plan, but adds that her job will include a combination of interacting with readers and visiting NPR member stations.

Asked to name public editors and reader advocates she might emulate, Jensen said she follows and enjoys the work of New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan.

"There's a lot of good work out there," Jensen said. "I guess the only one I would single out is I think Margaret Sullivan is doing a terrific job at The Times. She's just such a regular presence, and I like the fact that she's very active on social media and she jumps into things pretty quickly. I think she's terrific."

Late last year, NPR took criticism for a proposed revision of the job description for the incoming ombudsman. New York University professor Jay Rosen noted that the original job posting seemed to strip Matos' successor of the ability to comment or pass judgement on the coverage he or she would investigate. NPR CEO Jarl Mohn amended that description, telling Media Matters the original version was "a mistake."

Jensen says she's happy with revised description, which gives her the authority to pass judgement and provide commentary on NPR's journalism.

"I am certainly satisfied with the way that the job has been described, and laid out for me and I think it affords me plenty of flexibility and independence to do the job that needs to be done," Jensen said.

Jensen's three-year term will start Jan. 26. Matos' appointment concludes at the end of the month.

Here's the full release:

January 12, 2015; Washington, D.C. – NPR President and CEO Jarl Mohn today appointed Elizabeth Jensen, a veteran media and business reporter, to be the organization’s next Ombudsman/Public Editor. Jensen will begin her three-year appointment on January 26, serving as the public's representative to NPR and responsible for bringing transparency to matters of journalism and journalism ethics.

Jensen was selected following an extensive national search that found her uniquely qualified for the position. Writing since 2005 for The New York Times, Current and the Columbia Journalism Review, among others, she has covered public broadcasting and the media industry, reporting on topics including changing funding models and sustainability strategies for public broadcasting; leadership at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS and NPR; the intersection of media and politics; children’s programs; documentary film and non-profit journalism startups.

“Elizabeth is a widely respected journalist with a deep understanding of public broadcasting and will bring the highest level of integrity to this vitally important role,” Mohn said. “Our listeners will be well-served by her knowledge and experience from decades of covering the media industry. She will play a significant role in fulfilling NPR’s commitment to transparency.”

Jensen added, “I have covered NPR and public media for much of my career, occasionally critically when warranted, but I am also a devoted longtime listener. The mission of this remarkable news organization remains as important as it has ever been, even as the media landscape rapidly changes. As NPR’s ombudsman I look forward to engaging with other listeners and helping to bring transparency to NPR’s journalistic decision-making, just in a new forum.”

In 2000, NPR became the first U.S. broadcast news organization to create an Ombudsman position. The Ombudsman receives tens of thousands of listener inquiries annually and responds to significant queries, comments and criticisms. Edward Schumacher-Matos, NPR’s Ombudsman since June 2011, concludes his appointment at the end of this month.

Prior to her work at The New York Times and Current, Jensen was a New York-based staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, where she covered network television, PBS, NPR and cable programming. In that role, Jensen chronicled the reinvention of Sesame Workshop, the rise of Univision and the lack of network programming diversity, and broke the story of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s partisan 2004 campaign activities.

Previously, Jensen was a senior writer for the national media watchdog consumer magazine Brill’s Content, and before that, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, where her beats included broadcast television and food and alcohol. Earlier in her career, Jensen reported for the New York Daily News, Variety and Electronic Media. At New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, she is an adjunct professor, teaching food journalism.

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.

Jensen will be based in New York and have a regular presence in Washington, DC. Her roles with The New York Times and Current will end when she begins at NPR.

NPR is the leading provider of non-commercial news and entertainment programming in the U.S. More than 26 million people listen to NPR programs and newscast each week via 800+ radio stations throughout the country. In partnership with Member Stations, NPR strives to create a more informed public – one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures. As a digital innovator, and a leader in the public media community, NPR assures that the unique mission of nonprofit public media is not only preserved, but grows.