Edward Schumacher-Matos took over as NPR’s ombudsman at a turbulent time to serve as the public’s representative to the organization. A new CEO had just taken over and scandals involving reporters and fundraisers had rocked the organization. We’ll talk with him about his tenure so far, NPR’s new ethics guidelines and whether it’s possible to please everyone with election coverage.

Guests

  • Edward Schumacher-Matos Ombudsman, NPR

Transcript

  • 13:23:04

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIEqual parts investigator and ambassador, such is the life of the Ombudsman. In media it often comes down to building trust and maintaining standards, At least that's how Edward Schumacher-Matos defines his job as the Ombudsman at NPR. In a 24/7 news cycle where getting it first and getting it right are not always one in the same and facts can be overwhelmed by opinions, it's a role many in and outside of the media consider invaluable especially in the midst of or in the wake of an emergency or an election year.

  • 13:23:38

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIHere to shed some light on how NPR works from the inside out is Edward Schumacher-Matos. He is the Ombudsman for NPR. He's also the James Madison visiting professor on First Amendment issues at the Columbia Journalism School. Edward Schumacher-Matos joins us from studios at the Radio Foundation in New York. Thank you so much for joining us. And how was getting over to the studios of the Radio Foundation this morning? What are the streets in New York like?

  • 13:24:04

    MR. EDWARD SCHUMACHER-MATOSWell, Kojo, where I live which is in Harlem the streets are pretty empty. You're beginning to see some life come out into the streets. And I was able to flag down a livery car to get here. I thought I was going to have to walk the whole way, a little bit like Bryan's friend was walking out there on the coast.

  • 13:24:21

    NNAMDIBut you were able to get a cab and thank you for doing that for us. Given the news of the day let's talk a little bit about storm coverage because Sandy was, and likely will be for some time, a big story, more than a weather story. We're talking New York, we're talking the Stock Exchange. But when a storm is localized allow me to take the most cynical, the most disgruntled view of somebody who lives in Los Angeles who said, look this is not a West Coast story. This is not a Midwest story, yet here I am being bombarded by it on NPR. Is that what the role of a national news outlet should be? This is a localized storm.

  • 13:24:56

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSThat's not a bad complaint from Los Angeles, but I have to admit that one thing about the big storm hitting New York is one, New York is the financial capital of the country, so it does effect a lot of business across the country. It effects a lot of people. It's the media center of the country and it's Americans being affected. So the rest of the country -- just as we follow what happens in Katrina, we follow what happens, you know, the Midwest flooding, we follow what happens the fires out on the West Coast and in Los Angeles, this kind of thing gets followed, too.

  • 13:25:26

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSYou get those complaints from -- whatever part of the country's not affected complains about the other part of the country.

  • 13:25:32

    NNAMDI800-433-8850. How would you assess the media coverage of Sandy? You can also go to our website kojoshow.org and join the conversation there. Tell us what you think of the assessment of the media coverage, or you can send email to kojo@wamu.org. During the height of the storm last night Edward Schumacher-Matos, rumors started flying especially on Twitter. But some made it on the air with CNN and the weather channel picking up on reports of 3' of water on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. That proved to be false. How does NPR guide reporters when it comes to sharing information on personal Twitter accounts?

  • 13:26:12

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSThat's a difficult problem for reporters today as they try to one, get the news out fast and they try to use social media for reporting. NPR just came out with a new ethics guideline last year and it says essentially that social media, Twitter included, should be treated just like regular media. The same ethics apply, the same standards apply. You don't do anything differently even though you're working with social media.

  • 13:26:39

    NNAMDIEven though very often Twitter is so easy, just 140 characters, that we often Tweet before we have the opportunity to check our facts carefully. If the same standards apply it seems to me that reporters are, I guess, being asked to be a lot more careful about how they Tweet.

  • 13:26:58

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSSmart reporters will say, hey, I heard something. I can't confirm it. If you have information please let me know. In other words use the social media as a reporting tool as opposed to giving out definitive facts.

  • 13:27:10

    NNAMDIWell, we do live in an age of immediacy and an increasingly global news cycle. How do reporters balance getting the story first, which so many reporters want to do, with getting it right?

  • 13:27:24

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSIt's just more important to get it right. Getting it first is not that important. We don't really remember who has it first but you sure remember it if you screw it up.

  • 13:27:33

    NNAMDIWell, one listens to so many commercials on radio and television where they say we were first with this story, and so one tends to believe that the public thinks that's important also. You say getting it first is not that important.

  • 13:27:46

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSYou know, if I'm listening to your show I don't really know what somebody else has first on another show, do I?

  • 13:27:51

    NNAMDINo, you really don't. We're talking with Edward Schumacher-Matos. He is the Ombudsman for NPR and the James Madison visiting professor on First Amendment issues at the Columbia Journalism School. He joins us from studios at the Radio Foundation in New York. You too can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Do you think the role of an Ombudsman in a news organization is more or less important in this digital age? 800-433-8850.

  • 13:28:20

    NNAMDINot long after you took the job of Ombudsman, NPR introduced a new ethics guide. What are some of the key standards that it lays out and how does it guide reporters through questionable situations?

  • 13:28:33

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSYou know, the standard does what -- something I've been advocating for a long time. It dropped the whole concept of balance and it dropped the whole concept of objectivity and replaced it with fairness and accuracy and independence. And, you know, fairness is a more subjective standard. But the problem that you were having with this issue of balance, it was leading to too much false balance, false equivalence. A sense that you have to give equal time to two sides or three sides or four sides when, you know, each of the sides may not have the facts on their side.

  • 13:29:08

    NNAMDIYeah, and one wonders about the concept of balances opposed to the concept of fairness because, as you say, isn't that what journalists are supposed to be able to be trained to do?

  • 13:29:20

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSExactly.

  • 13:29:20

    NNAMDITo figure out exactly what's factual and what's not?

  • 13:29:24

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSExactly, exactly. I mean, in the end, we're supposed to try to get at truth. People can have different concepts of what truth is but we want a factual truth and we want to get as close to it as we can. And what we don't know we say we don't know or we say that there're two different points of view, or however many points of view, on this particular idea of truth but this is where the facts lie.

  • 13:29:45

    NNAMDIIt wasn't long before that new ethics guide was put to the test when complaints came in after a story about Five-Hour Energy, a product whose parent company is a corporate sponsor of NPR. You took what some might consider a surprising stance on providing disclaimers when covering sponsors. Can you tell us what your take was on this?

  • 13:30:06

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSYes. You know, the ad did call for disclaimers and I came and I -- the code is being modified to say, you know, that you do it when it makes sense to give a disclaimer. Here was a situation where if you had to have a disclaimer every time you mentioned any kind of a company that at any time was a sponsor on NPR you'd be driving the listeners crazy. It just wouldn't be necessary. It'd be the same as a commercial media of the New York Times or the Washington Post putting in every story every time an advertiser was mentioned. At some point you have to decide that you trust the media, you trust the reporters.

  • 13:30:50

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSWhen there is a clear and direct conflict of interests or perception or possible conflict of interests that, you know, you're dealing -- you're writing a story on that advertiser or on that sponsor. And that sponsor is sponsoring that particular segment than yes, you should say something. Because then it's just you want to flag it with your audience to let your audience know that you know that it looks that way and it's not that way. But generally speaking everything still comes down to trust no matter what you do.

  • 13:31:22

    NNAMDIBut what do you say to people who say, but look aren't you the ones, the media who are always asking our leadership, whether they are elected leaders or appointed leaders, for transparency wanting to know every single way they make -- every single basis on which they make certain kinds of judgments? Are we in the media the ones who say that you can't simply tell us to trust you, that we elected you and therefore you're going to operate in your interest? Why should we the media get a pass in that regard?

  • 13:31:53

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSThat's a good one. That's a good one. I -- you know, I do think that -- and I'm going to get in trouble with a lot of people on this...

  • 13:32:00

    NNAMDIThat's why we're here.

  • 13:32:01

    SCHUMACHER-MATOS...yes, I do think we sometimes go overboard on demands for transparency in everything in life, including from our political leaders. You can argue that one reason why the two sides are so polarized and cannot negotiate a deal is that they're afraid to talk behind -- even to talk behind closed doors today. I don't want to overstate this, Kojo. I do believe in sunshine laws. I do believe in transparency. I do believe that we should know who's financing candidates and where the money is coming from.

  • 13:32:42

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSBut I feel like we haven't refined the system in a way that allows for some sense of trust and some sense for an ability to negotiate, and for some sense of saying that, you know, people are representatives and they represent us and we don't demand total transparency in everything, particularly in their private lives.

  • 13:33:08

    NNAMDIOkay. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. We're talking with Edward Schumacher-Matos. He is the Ombudsman for NPR. We'll start with Marlin in Burtonsville, Md. Marlin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:33:21

    MARLINHi, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. First of all, I'd like to say I'm a big fan of your program.

  • 13:33:27

    NNAMDIThank you.

  • 13:33:28

    MARLINThank you. I had a question for the Ombudsman regarding sensationalist reporting. I was wondering how you felt about, you know, when people come on the air and they tell us, you know, this could very well be the end of times. Give you an example, Governor O'Malley yesterday outright claimed that people would die and he made it seem as if this was going to be, you know, an eradication more than a storm that people could just weather. I was wondering how you, as a public official, think that is beneficial to insight panic in the local population during a situation like this.

  • 13:34:05

    NNAMDIWell, I think that -- I can't ask Edward Schumacher-Matos to be responsible for what Governor O'Malley said but I can ask him how he feels reporters should report on public officials who seem to be sensationalizing issues,. Although I'm not sure there was any way you could really sensationalize what was going on with what has become Superstorm Sandy.

  • 13:34:28

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSI would have to hear what he said but, you know, being in New York there was a concern too of deaths as a result of this storm. And there have been some deaths. I don't think that you should pretend dangers don't exist. That would be a mis-service to the public. If you want to talk about sensationalizing instead of by public officials in sensationalizing in general by others and I do think that we have to have a very strong filter to keep that type of stuff off the air.

  • 13:34:56

    NNAMDIMarlin, thank you for your call. We move on to Caroline in Prince George's County, Md. Caroline, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:35:03

    CAROLINEThank you, Kojo, and goo afternoon to you and your guest. I...

  • 13:35:06

    NNAMDIGood afternoon.

  • 13:35:08

    CAROLINEGood afternoon. I have a complaint to share with the Ombudsman and it has to do with money, of all things. Your station regularly encourages people who contribute to the Combined Federal Campaign to mark or indicate a code number which would designate money to go to station WAMU. This absolutely irks me because I think it is the misuse of much needed funding for people who are homeless and have many problems that often are not addressed because there just isn't the money, or so we're told.

  • 13:36:01

    CAROLINECould your guest please comment on this outreach by your station for monies to be designated as I described? And if you wish me to stay on the line I will, or I'll hang up and take it through the radio.

  • 13:36:17

    NNAMDII wish you to stay on the line, Caroline, because I would certainly like the Ombudsman to talk a little bit about how public radio is funded.

  • 13:36:24

    CAROLINEThank you.

  • 13:36:26

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSKojo, you might want to step in on this one too because that fundraising is not actually done by NPR itself. That's don’t by stations like WAMU. And, you know, there's competition for funds for all sorts of things and I think that we as a society need an informed citizenry and the kind of news that WAMU is bringing to Washington and to listeners like you. If WAMU did not reach out to seek public funding it wouldn't be able to give you this kind of a service. And yes, it's important to take care of the homeless. You're absolutely right. But it's also important we have an informed citizenry.

  • 13:37:11

    NNAMDIAnd, Caroline, I would add to that that WAMU and other public radio stations around the country say doing our fundraising campaigns that we depend on listeners for the majority of funding that we receive, the funding that provides the programming that you've been listening to right now. And if a listener chooses -- when a listener makes a contribution in the Combined Federal Campaign, if a listener makes the choice of citing WAMU as the recipient of its gift, I think the listener should be free to make that choice.

  • 13:37:44

    NNAMDIBecause I think the listeners are as aware as you are of the variety of needs for contributions that they might be able to give. So if they make that choice I would like to believe that it's an informed choice. What do you say, Caroline?

  • 13:38:00

    CAROLINEI understand the funding arrangement that applies to the station and discussions around NPR and its source of funding. The problem I have with what you just said, Kojo, is this. It's one thing for me to make a choice in the marketplace, let's say, all right. It's a different matter if you are extolling the idea that I make the choice that you're steering me towards. This is the problem as I see it. And I'm also aware that your station and its recent fundraising campaign brought in just under $2 million. Am I correct?

  • 13:38:49

    NNAMDIYes, you're correct.

  • 13:38:50

    CAROLINEAll right. So I don't know how you react to this, but I maintain that it is inappropriate to steer people who are thinking that this is a campaign to help needy people -- variety of needs I will grant you -- and then are told, well, you know, we're here and you can help us. I just have a problem with it. Your general fundraising that you do is not a problem.

  • 13:39:23

    NNAMDIWell...

  • 13:39:23

    CAROLINEThis particular item irks me no end.

  • 13:39:26

    NNAMDI...what I'd like to do is to try not to steer the conversation too far away from the NPR Ombudsman. But I will say that if you have a problem with that, that's fine. The reason we exist is to give our listeners, we feel, as much information as they need or as they can use. And if, as a result of the information you're getting, you have a problem with one of our practices, you get the opportunity to express that on this broadcast on the air and people hear you and they get to make that decision.

  • 13:39:57

    NNAMDII think that's what the public in public radio is all about. You not only support us, but you're able to express your opinions about what we do. So allow me, Caroline, to say thank you, and get back to the issue at hand which is talking with the NPR Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos. Over the course of the past year, two public radio shows that previously enjoyed near universal esteem, "This American Life," and "Radio Lab," have had, well, blemishes on their records, which brings up a number of issues.

  • 13:40:26

    NNAMDIBut the two big ones are first clarifying who produces shows heard on NPR affiliates. How much of your day do you spend doing that?

  • 13:40:36

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSOh, a day doesn't go by where we don't get a complaint on a show that NPR actually has nothing to do with. NPR has become like Kleenex. You know, nobody says give me a tissue, you say give me a Kleenex. If you hear public radio you think it's NPR, which is wonderful for the brand, but that also means, you know, NPR gets blamed for lots of things it's not responsible for.

  • 13:40:59

    NNAMDIIncluding our fundraising apparently.

  • 13:41:02

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSYes. It isn't related, and -- yes.

  • 13:41:04

    NNAMDISecond, how do incidents like that reverberate at NPR and with reporters and producers there?

  • 13:41:12

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSI think they mostly understand and sort of wave it off. They get frustrated by it. They don't like being blamed for things that they didn't do, and, you know, it's left to me and audience services and the corporate side of NPR to try and explain that they had nothing, you know, that they're not responsible for any particular show that's not produced or distributed by NPR.

  • 13:41:36

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Edward Schumacher-Matos. He is the ombudsman for NPR and the James Madison visiting professor on first amendment issues at the Columbia School of Journalism. You can still call us, 800-433-8850. How do you think NPR could improve, or what do you appreciate and enjoy about NPR? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:43:39

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest joins us from the studios of the Radio Foundation in New York. He is Edward Schumacher- Matos, ombudsman for NPR. He's also the James Madison visiting professor on first amendment issues at the Columbia School of Journalism. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send email to kojo@wamu.org. We mentioned incidents involving two shows, "This American Life," and "Radio Lab."

  • 13:44:06

    NNAMDIThe "This American Life" piece is because "This American Life" retracted a piece by Mike Daisy, the performer, in March of this year. And "Radio Lab" is facing allegations of racism and forcing its own agenda on a story after a piece on yellow rain and the mysterious chemical attacks on the Hmong people in the early 1980s. But Edward, one could argue that greater diversity on the staffs of shows and on air could help head off problems like the one that "Radio Lab" is having, being accused of, I guess, racial and ethnic insensitivity. Just how diverse is the staff at NPR?

  • 13:44:44

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSNPR actually does pretty well on having a diverse staff. It, you know, over indexes in terms of African-Americans. It under indexes in terms of Hispanics, and I myself am Hispanic.

  • 13:44:58

    NNAMDISure.

  • 13:44:59

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSIt more or less hits about right on Asians. It's low on -- I'm sorry, on Native Americans, but the problem with Native Americans, it's such a small number of Native Americans. Like you hire one it would totally change your numbers, though it would be good for NPR to have more Native Americans on the staff.

  • 13:45:26

    NNAMDIWell, we're finally in the final stretch of this election season. What are the main concerns or compliments you receive about NPR's coverage of the candidates and is it really possible to make everyone happy?

  • 13:45:39

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSThere's no way to make everybody happy. There's not a day that doesn't go by that complaints don't come of bias of one sort or the other. The curious thing is that while we all think of NPR as being branded as a liberal media, I get far more complaints from the left saying that it's too conservative.

  • 13:45:57

    NNAMDIWell, what I find interesting is that everybody feels during these election seasons that the media -- the mainstream media in general, or NPR in particular, is against its particular favorite candidate. Do you get a lot of that?

  • 13:46:11

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSThat might be -- that's a good point, Kojo.

  • 13:46:18

    NNAMDIYeah. Whoever our favorite candidate is, we feel that they're all against him or her in this situation.

  • 13:46:23

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSYes. But, you know, I did a look at NPR's fact checking during the debates...

  • 13:46:26

    NNAMDIYes.

  • 13:46:28

    SCHUMACHER-MATOS...and I found that, you know, over the course of the three presidential debates and the one vice presidential debate, you know, NPR found that the Republicans, Romney and Ryan, misstated facts like at a rate of about two to one compared to the president and Biden. But by the last debate, President Obama got -- made more misstatements of facts shall we say than Romney did.

  • 13:46:57

    NNAMDIHmm. We got a….

  • 13:46:59

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSThis is according to NPR's own fact checking, right?

  • 13:47:00

    NNAMDIYou fact check the fact checkers.

  • 13:47:03

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSI fact check the fact checkers, you're right.

  • 13:47:05

    NNAMDIWe go on to Adam in Maryland. Adam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:47:12

    ADAMHi Kojo. I just have a general question, and I've been curious about this for awhile. I had read an article a few years ago about the pay structure for the morning anchors and evening anchors, and specifically the pay seem really high for even -- for national public radio, and I'm just curious how those -- how that's set up, or how that's decided, what those anchors are paid, specifically for "Morning Edition," and then "All Things Considered."

  • 13:47:37

    NNAMDIWell, that might be actually higher that Edward Schumacher-Matos's own pay grade, but that's another story.

  • 13:47:46

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSYou know, I've made it a point to be an ombudsman about the news and about what listeners hear on the radio or read online. I don't see myself as a corporate ombudsman, and that's a management issue that I think is just outside my purview. I don't want to get involved in knowing what people's pay scales are.

  • 13:48:04

    NNAMDIAn ombudsman at a print outlet typically has a column. You write a blog, but do you, or should you, have an on-air presence?

  • 13:48:13

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSAh, Kojo, you're raising a sensitive point here with me. I've been arguing just that, and we are trying in-house to see if we can't develop some sort of ongoing feature to be on air.

  • 13:48:26

    NNAMDILet the record show that I think you should have an on-air presence, and that's one of the reasons why we have you on air here today, so that people can have a conversation with the NPR ombudsman. Adam, thank you very much for your call. Here is Richard in Mount Airy, Md. Richard, your turn.

  • 13:48:44

    RICHARDYes. I'm a senior citizen who lives on social security and a limited income. I listen to you and the other stations 88.5 and 88.1 regularly. I watch the "MacNeil/Lehrer Report" when I can. Today I just canceled my subscription to the New York Times because it's over $60 a month and it's priced me out. I have no really good source of general news, and I find that public radio, although it's very interesting and a lot of the features are great, I don't have a good source for general news, and I would like to see more devoting to keeping us informed in a more, you know, I mean, on the world situation and so on and so forth, and more general news programs on PBS.

  • 13:49:31

    NNAMDIWell, could you be a bit more -- I hate to say specific when you're talking about general, but what do you mean by general news?

  • 13:49:37

    RICHARDJust to stay informed on all the different subjects and all the things that going on in the world today.

  • 13:49:42

    NNAMDIWhere do you find that NPR fails in that regard? What are you not hearing about?

  • 13:49:47

    RICHARDOkay. I mean, a lot of the shows, especially on the weekends, are interesting. "Click and Clack" is interesting, and "This American Life" is interesting and so and so forth, but more as they -- I mean, the networks today are essentially unwatchable. It used to be that, you know, in my younger days in television you could watch the evening news and stay informed. It's too -- they might have five stories or four stories...

  • 13:50:20

    NNAMDIAnd you're finding the NPR is not doing that for you? You don't think...

  • 13:50:23

    RICHARDNo.

  • 13:50:23

    NNAMDI...you can stay informed? I'm not exactly sure, Edward Schumacher-Matos, exactly what Richard means, but I'm going to hand it over to you anyway.

  • 13:50:31

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSYeah. I don't know that I agree with you, Richard. I would suggest two things. One is to listen to NPR over the course of several hours. You really do get the world covered. Two is to look at NPR online where you get even more. There's a limit, of course, to how much you can put on air. You know, you can put more into a fat newspaper, but newspapers aren't fat anymore.

  • 13:51:01

    NNAMDIAnd indeed, the fact that newspapers aren't fat anymore speaks to what the NPR model is, if you will, and that is that since we don't depend on commercials for the funding that we get, the individual stations depends on listeners, and so far, that model seems to be working out. But back to you, Edward. You studied international politics, economics, and literature while you were college. You spent time in Japan as a Fulbright fellow.

  • 13:51:28

    NNAMDIYou served in the Army during Vietnam. What drew you to journalism?

  • 13:51:34

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSYou know, it was that Vietnam experience that did it for me, Kojo. I really thought I wanted to be an international lawyer or a diplomat, and, you know, after having served in Vietnam, I just didn't want to work for any large organization, either government or private. I had always liked writing. I had always like public affairs. I went and studied at the Fletcher School at Tufts in foreign affairs, and I happened to take a course under David Halberstam if you remember who he is.

  • 13:52:01

    NNAMDISure. The author of "The Best and the Brightest."

  • 13:52:04

    SCHUMACHER-MATOS"The Best and the Brightest," and so I was so inspired by that, I got a job working on the night copy desk at the Boston Globe, and I haven't stopped since.

  • 13:52:13

    NNAMDIOnto the telephones. Here is Doug in Ellicott City, Md. Doug, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:52:20

    DOUGHi. Thank you very much for taking my call, Kojo.

  • 13:52:22

    NNAMDIYou're welcome.

  • 13:52:24

    DOUGI'm a long-time listener and supporter of National Public Radio, and there is something that I've written about to NPR several times that has never received a reply, which really disappoints me. And the issue is, that I find on your news shows there is a tremendous level of imprecision in reporting. And what I mean by that can be illustrated by an example. Very often when you had the coverage of the oil leaks in the Gulf Coast two years ago, the reporters treated the words barrel and gallon as interchangeable, and a gallon -- a barrel is 55 gallons.

  • 13:53:07

    DOUGAnd the reason that this and many similar examples distress me, is because making that mistake often causes people to completely misunderstand the magnitude of the subject being discussed and its potential impact. And there are many mistakes, particularly in the area of use of numbers and discussing some scientific concepts where I think the reporters really do a terrible job, and I can't believe that there is no editing to check these things.

  • 13:53:40

    NNAMDIEdward Schumacher-Matos, factual errors, especially stories having to do with numbers or science?

  • 13:53:45

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSFirst let me say that I'm sorry you didn't get an answer to your letters, because I know there's a big effort inside NPR to make sure that anybody who writes or calls or sends an email with a complaint gets and answer, so that was an error on NPR's behalf right there. In terms of factual corrections, you just have to give me examples. I exist precisely to look over the shoulders of the editors, to make sure those sorts of things don't happen. It's just one extra set of eyeballs.

  • 13:54:16

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSBut there's a great effort to try and get things right, and I think that NPR generally a very good job. I wouldn't agree with you. But do they not make mistakes from time to time? Yeah. They're human. Anybody can make a mistake. The barrels versus gallons, that one surprises me. That's such a doozy of a mistake...

  • 13:54:35

    NNAMDIYeah.

  • 13:54:35

    SCHUMACHER-MATOS...that, you know, you have to think that somebody maybe was just talking like I'm talking now and just didn't realize what they said.

  • 13:54:43

    NNAMDIAnd Doug, thank you very much for your call. I'm glad you mentioned why you exist, because you have served as an ombudsman before for the Miami Herald. Now you've taken on that role at NPR. How do you define the job, Edward, both at NPR and where it fits into the broader media landscape?

  • 13:54:59

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSYou know, it is two things. It's one to help maintain standards, by looking over the shoulders like I said. But the second thing is to let the audience know that you're listening to them. We're listening to the listeners, to their concerns, your concerns if you're listening to the show, your complaints. We take them seriously, we investigate them to see if there's anything to do, you know, if there's any legitimacy to it.

  • 13:55:23

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSIt doesn't mean that we agree with all the complaints, but we certainly listen to them, we look at them, and if I agree, and I'm an independent, let me say that. I'm independent by contract. Nobody can tell me what to write about. Nobody can tell me what to say, you know. I can come out and publically criticize for that mistake and side with whoever's complaining.

  • 13:55:49

    NNAMDIYou're also a professor teaching at Columbia School of Journalism. How do your jobs, if you will, inform one another?

  • 13:55:56

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSYou know, they're very complimentary. I mean, I find that I can -- I have my other colleagues at Columbia from whom I can, you know, learn from, bounce issues off of. It allows me to think about what's happening in media in general, to step back from NPR and see it from afar. Though let me say that I, you know, I do spend most of my week in Washington at NPR, and I should be there right now if it weren't for the storm.

  • 13:56:21

    NNAMDIOnto William in Leesburg, Va. William, your turn.

  • 13:56:26

    WILLIAMHi there. Thank you, Kojo, for taking my call. I was calling (unintelligible), and when he said he's looking for news, one of the things that I look for at NPR, is I look for the news. (unintelligible)

  • 13:56:47

    NNAMDIYou're -- you're breaking up on me, William. Could you stay stationary for one second, because I think your question is important, we're running out of time, and you wanted to talk about general news, did you not?

  • 13:56:56

    WILLIAMYes, sir.

  • 13:56:57

    NNAMDIGo right ahead.

  • 13:56:58

    WILLIAMCan you hear me now?

  • 13:56:58

    NNAMDIYes.

  • 13:56:59

    WILLIAMYeah. So looking for general news, when we were -- when somebody's wanting news and not with a bias, you know, they -- I think a lot of people do turn to NPR because, you know, every hour on the half hour during prime time, we can depend on NPR for that. But sometimes like he was talking about on the weekends, it gets overclouded with, you know, "Click and Clack," and all the other shows, "Prairie Home Companion." Great shows, but there are certain times of the day we're looking.

  • 13:57:28

    WILLIAMWe want to listen to the radio. We don't want to actually go online and look it up.

  • 13:57:32

    NNAMDIYou want hard news and we're running out of time. Edward Schumacher-Matos, you have about 30 seconds to talk about the distinction between hard news and other programming.

  • 13:57:40

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSYou know, I like hard news myself too. I think on the weekend that they generally soften it up a little bit because most -- one, there's less news, and two, so many people in the audience actually prefer something softer on the weekend. But you raise a good point, and I'll certainly pass it on.

  • 13:57:58

    NNAMDIEdward Schumacher-Matos is the ombudsman for NPR. He's also the James Madison visiting professor on first amendment issues at the Columbia School of Journalism. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:58:09

    SCHUMACHER-MATOSKojo, thank you. It's been a great pleasure.

  • 13:58:11

    NNAMDI"The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Brendan Sweeney, Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, Tayla Burney, Kathy Goldgeier, and Elizabeth Weinstein with help from Stephannie Stokes, Jessica Guzman and Ryan Mixson. Our engineer today, Tobey Schreiner. Brendan Sweeney has been on the phones. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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