Interesting insights from NPR’s Ombudsman

NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos

Edward Schumacher-Matos joined NPR as its Ombudsman back in June and has quickly adapted to his position as the public’s representative to NPR. He serves as an independent source regarding NPR’s programming, explains NPR to its listeners, and shares listener feedback and concerns with NPR.

Today he addressed the issue surrounding Lisa Simeone and her involvement with Occupy DC.  Several media outlets, including NPR, have reported that Simeone has been removed from her position as the host of the public radio program Soundprint.  A number of media outlets have suggested, incorrectly, the NPR had a role in this termination.

In addition to her hosting role on Soundprint, Ms. Simeone is also the host of World of Opera, a program that  is produced by WDAV, a music and arts station based in Davidson, North Carolina.  The program is distributed by NPR.  Simeone is neither an employee of NPR nor of WDAV; she is a freelancer with the station.  WDAV has made the decision to retain Simeone as host of the program.

In Schumacher-Matos’ piece, he notes:

As news ombudsman, I focus on news coverage issues and the journalism being produced at NPR. I am independent in choosing what to write about, and what I say when I do.

Simeone, however, is a non-NPR employee who hosts an opera program produced by a North Carolina public radio station that has nothing to do with news. The program is distributed by NPR, but Simeone has no influence or role in NPR news. The issue surrounding her, therefore, is a management and legal one. Any comments listeners want to make should be addressed to Audience Services.

However, he does use the opportunity to discuss NPR’s ethics code, which specifically states that “NPR journalists may not participate in marches and rallies involving causes or issues that NPR covers, nor should they sign petitions or otherwise lend their name to such causes, or contribute money to them.”

St. Louis Public Radio has a similar policy for its journalists.

A post by Schumacher-Matos a week ago had a whole lot more meat on it as he detailed a comprehensive review of NPR’s coverage of the problems that News Corp. and its head Rupert Murdoch have faced in light of the phone-tapping and bribery scandals that have occurred primarily in the U.K.

A summary of Schumacher-Matos evaluation stated that:

NPR has rightly given a lot of coverage to the scandal, but not more so than other major news organizations or even The Wall Street Journal itself. With the glaring exception of one online headline, NPR’s coverage has been professional, sound, and calm. There has been no underlying tone of smacking lips, and certainly no liberal bias.

Schumacher-Matos admits that “There is no love lost between the Murdoch organization and NPR. Avowedly conservative commentators at two of Murdoch’s properties, Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, routinely slam the public network. They had good fodder, for example, in NPR’s bungled firing a year ago of Juan Williams.” 

However, the Ombudman’s assessment finds that the amount of coverage by NPR of the scandal was no more or less than most mainstream media outlets including Murdoch’s own publication, The Wall Street Journal.

Each week, NPR distributes an e-newsletter of recent postings by its Ombudsman.  It’s worth the time to subscribe as his insights, which are fascinating for those of us who rely on NPR News as a primary news source.  It’s a shame that more news organizations aren’t keeping themselves this accountable.

UPDATED as of 4:35 PM

NPR has just announced that WDAV, which took over production of World of Opera in January 2010, will assume responsibility for the distribution of the program on November 11. The change will be seamless for listeners. As you know, the program will continue to be hosted by Lisa Simeone, produced by WDAV, and distributed to all the stations that air the program.

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About Tim Eby

General Manager of St. Louis Public Radio.

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