September 17, 2010

NPR Job Posting Highlights Duties of News Ombuds

National Public Radio is soliciting applications for the position of Ombudsman. This is one of the most high-profile News Ombuds in the U.S., and not the type of position for which there is often a public search. The job posting highlights the similarities and differences between Organizational Ombuds and News Ombuds.

The primary role of NPR’s Ombudsman is to “explain NPR to the listeners and the listeners to NPR.” The Ombudsman investigates complaints and acts as an independent reporter between listeners and NPR. S/he is the arbiter of fairness, balance and accuracy in NPR’s news reporting.

The Ombudsman writes and speaks on matters of journalistic ethics and standards, including, but not limited to, regular reports on NPR Digital Media and other programs, and appearances at regional public radio conferences. At times, the Ombudsman responds directly to questions, comments and complaints from listeners.

NPR’s Ombudsman position is a three year term.
Organizational Ombuds share a duty of facilitating communication between stakeholders and the organization, and responding directly to individuals with concerns. Many Organizational Ombuds serve a fixed term. However, Organizational Ombuds do not act as arbiters, nor do they serve as representatives of their organization.

Specific responsibilities include:

1. Quarterly report to the NPR Board of Directors
2. Column at; approximately 3-4 blog entries per month
3. Appearances on local NPR stations, acting as a liaison and providing leadership on matters of news ethics and standards
4. Public speaking engagements, approximately 3-4 per month
5. Editing of Quarterly evaluation of NPR’s Middle East coverage, which sits on the Ombudsman’s Blog
6. Ability to recognize and address listeners’ perceptions of NPR
7. Stay current on media ethics, trends, and activities
8. Ensure NPR lives up to the ethics code it created and hold NPR accountable
9. Educate listeners about NPR’s mission, vision and goals, including the NPR News Code of Ethics and Practices and NPR News Social Media Guidelines
10. Field requests and inquiries for information pertaining to NPR’s policy about corrections on the web, and social media guidelines
Organizational Ombuds also work to keep current on issues relevant to their Organizations and trends in stakeholder concerns. Organizational Ombuds also act as a resource for information about their organizations' culture, practices and policies. Most Organizational Ombuds do not, however, make regular public appearances, preferring instead to keep a lower profile.

With respect to qualifications and attributes, NPR is seeking someone with at least a college degree, experience in the industry, ability to earn trust, writing and speaking abilities, and prior work as an Ombuds. These are very similar to what is expected of applicants for Organizational Ombuds positions. (NPR:Jobs via Berkeley School of Journalism.)


  1. Is Alicia Shepard leaving

  2. NPR's current Ombudsman, Alicia Shepard was appointed in October 2007. If it was for a three-year term, this would be a search for her replacement.

  3. Tom,could you tell what Alicia was doing before..2007

    Job duties

  4. According to her NPR profile, Shepard:
    -taught journalism;
    -wrote for Washingtonian magazine, Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Newark Star Ledger and The Washington Post
    -worked on a book (Woodward & Bernstein: Life in the Shadow of Watergate (2006, Wiley));
    -contributed to American Journalism Review;
    -taught at Penn State;
    -worked at the San Jose Mercury News; and
    -taught English in Japan.

  5. Did anyone else hear the interview with the NPR ombuds on On Point about Juan Williams? It really felt as if she went way over the ombuds boundaries in discussing this issue. She became a spokesperson for NPR defending their decision.