Drug-testing, bias, and more: Highlights from the NPR ombudsman’s Reddit AMA

Edward Schumacher-Matos, who has been NPR’s ombudsman since 2011, answered questions on Reddit yesterday. Some highlights from his AMA (Ask Me Anything):

Regarding false equivalence:
“NPR’s guiding ethic is not ‘balance,’ in the sense that you present two sides as equal in their merits. Often factually they are not. “Our responsibility is to give listeners and Web readers the correct facts and context. nprThere might still be two opinions on how to interpret the facts, or which ones to give more weight to. NPR’s responsibility is to allow listeners to hear those opinions, especially if they have influence. Wacko or irrelevant opinions can be disregarded. What is wacko is a judgment call.”

The most difficult part of the job:
“Getting reporters and editors to understand that they, too, have to be held publicly accountable.”

On attracting young listeners:
“The website skews younger and keeps getting more and more innovative and cutting edge. But it doesn’t and shouldn’t use ‘click bait’ to try to attract a young audience just to attract it.”

Regarding the New York Times drug-testing new hires:
“The NYT does? I used to work there. First I have heard of this. I am opposed to drug testing. NPR does not test.”

On bias perceptions:
“I get more complaints that NPR is too conservative instead of liberal. I am not saying it is, but this is to give you an idea of how others see bias at NPR. …audience surveys show that the audience is in fact fairly evenly divided.”

I asked Schumacher-Matos a few questions about his AMA – and the search for his replacement – and he responded:



Some questions were better than others, but all reflected standard listener and reader concerns and deserved a considered response. This was especially true for questions that seemed to come from young people whose “softballs,” as you put it, were not terribly well informed but honestly curious.

I was surprised that there were no trolls and no nasty invective. I will leave it to you to say whether there were missed opportunities, though I found it interesting that the Juan Williams episode remains alive. It was for me a good oppportunity to give some overall perspective on news directions at NPR.

I can’t tell you about how the replacement search is going. I am not—and should not be—part of the process. But I can say that I have gotten lots of call from interested candidates, which is good to see.

* I am Edward Schumacher-Matos, the outgoing NPR ombudsman (reddit.com)