NPR listeners respond to ombud’s suggestion they should trust reporters

Speaking recently about Mike Daisey, Jayson Blair said, “journalism is essentially built on trust.” Speaking recently about himself, Mike Daisey said, “At the end of the day, people make a trust decision” when trying to figure out whether they should believe him. They’re unlikely allies for NPR ombud Edward Schumacher-Matos, who earlier this month suggested, “You either trust NPR’s reporters and editors to be impartial, or you don’t.” The comment sparked plenty of feedback.

In response, Schumacher-Matos followed up with a self-examination of his own work yesterday: “I intended to convey that even if NPR reporters and hosts made every possible on-air disclosure, the public must ultimately put some trust in the organization that is delivering the news,” he wrote.

Indeed, Schumacher-Matos’ initial position was more nuanced than that first quote suggests; two sentences before it, he wrote: “There is no way to totally eliminate the appearance of all conflicts of interest, and sometimes the conflict itself.” Noting that NPR has 175 corporate underwriters, he wrote:

It would be a logistical nightmare and senseless use of time on air and space on line to repeat a rote statement about a company being a sponsor each time one of the 175 are mentioned in a story. And what about new sponsors [National Public Media] might be seeking to attract? Or a past sponsor?

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  • Anonymous

    Another way of putting it:

    Journalists have the privilege of automatically having the people’s
    trust by virtue of the fact that they are supposed to tell the most
    people possible what they need to know to make the well-informed
    decisions. Part of what they need to know to make informed decisions is
    if the party being interviewed has any financial connection to the
    interviewer. That is one of the basic tenets of journalism.

    NPR abuses that trust by NOT telling us of the financial connections.

    The person who is supposed to represent the people to NPR nor only
    thinks that it is OK, he fights for amending the principles of
    journalism so that disclosure as part of the report is not required.

    And then, he is under the impression that listeners will either trust NPR or they will not.

    And Poynter supports this.

    It makes their tag line “standing for journalism, strengthening democracy” ring hollow.

    Mr. Beaujon: Please tell us how NPR’s behavior stands for journalism and strengthens democracy.

  • Anonymous

    Mr. Beaujon’s choice of quotes from all that Mr. Schumacher-Matos has said is very telling.

    Basically, he is saying “It’s impossible to eliminate APPEARANCES of conflict and not matter what NPR does, some people will not trust NPR.”

    So, since SOME people won’t believe us no matter what we do, then let’s not show any respect for those who do. Let’s just not bother to inform our audience.

    Mr. Beaujon calls this nuanced, for some reason.
    I call it dismissive and condescending.

    Anybody can come up with excuses why they shouldn’t do something that might take away something from those who hold the purse strings.
    Journalistic integrity shows itself when a journalist does what needs to be done even when it requires effort or is not subservient to the well-being of its sponsors.

  • Anonymous

    To me, this is another example of Poynter’s enabling the subversion of long-standing journalistic principles and ethics by the main stream media, part of which NPR proudly claims it is.

    In this case it is transparency. Apparently, Mr. Beaujon thinks it’s OK for NPR to not tell us when a sponsor is the subject of a report.

    Mr. Schumacher-Matos has expended a lot of time and effort and thousands of words defending NPR’s not acknowledging that the subject of, in Mr. Schumacer-Matos’ own words “a puff piece” on a product which just happens to be a corporate sponsor of NPR.

    Listeners simply asked that the first time the product’s name was mentioned, NPR add “, an NPR sponsor”. That’s it. (People also objected to the promotional tone of the piece.)

    For the public’s representative to NPR, however, this is an honerous burden. The ombudsman invokes all sorts of straw men, misrepresentations, and obfuscations to NOT address the issue. I’ve addressed those in detail in the comments there.

    It would take 1-2 hours to compile a list of sponsors.
    Maybe 1-5 minutes a day to keep it updated.
    It would take less than a minute for staff to text-message an intern to see if the subject of their story was on the list.
    It would take 1.5 seconds to acknowledge this on air.

    Yet, this is too much for not only NPR, but for the organization that contributed its expertise on journalistic ethics to NPR’s new ethics handbook.

    It comes down to “trusting or not” because NPR does not want to do the things that journalists are supposed to do to EARN the people’s trust. In this case, letting us know that the subject of their report is a sponsor.