Sep 19, 2011

Blogosphere lashing for NPR report that went straight down the middle

As Jay Rosen sees it, "he said, she said" reporting is a "lame formula" for fact-based news reporting, a method of presenting opposing points of view that is out-dated and gutless. When Rosen, an NYU j-school professor who blogs at Press Think, found an example of "he said, she said" reporting in NPR's Sept. 8 story on regulations on abortion clinics in Kansas, he called down the network in a series of posts that accused NPR of being cowardly:

"NPR has, in this case, allowed its desire to escape criticism to overwhelm its journalistic imagination," Rosen wrote. "'He said, she said' does not serve listeners. It tries to shield NPR from another round of bias attacks. That’s putting your needs—for political refuge—ahead of mine as a listener. . . . And one more thing, a little lesson in realism. They’re going to attack you anyway, and crow in triumph when your CEO is forced out by those attacks. Ultimately there is no refuge, so you might as well do good journalism."

Rosen's critique, which he also posted on Tumblr, drew responses from current NPR Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos, former Ombud Jeffrey Dvorkin and former NPR News chief Bruce Drake.

All three agreed at least in part with Rosen's critique, but Drake took it one step further: "Speaking in general, if he-said-she-said reporting is one of the lowest forms of journalism in existence, then the resort to the 'We get attacked by both sides' is the lowest form of justification or defense when a piece of reporting is question," he wrote. "It’s stating the obvious to say such a response doesn’t cut it simply because it doesn’t deal with the substance of the criticism of a story’s reporting."

Schumacker-Matos, who signed on as NPR ombudsman in June, had invoked the "hit from both sides" response in his defense of NPR and reporter Kathy Lohr.

This post has been corrected: An earlier version mistakenly confused Bruce Drake, NPR News chief from September 2000 to 2005, with KPCC President Bill Davis, a former NPR programming v.p. who is a member of the NPR Board.


Steve Bass said...

Bill Davis is president of KPCC and on the NPR board, not Bruce Drake.

John Proffitt said...

NPR hasn't had a serious ombudsman since Dvorkin left. The last one was a journalism apologist. This new one is not living up to the title with this engagement with Rosen.

Jim Russell said...

John, respectfully, I disagree with you. Dvorkin a terrific ombudsman. But, I think Alicia Shepard did a surprisingly robust job during a very, very difficult period for NPR. I think she raised some tough questions and called a spade a spade.

I also think that Bruce Drake's comment, warning us to not take solace in the fact that both sides attack you equally -- is right on the money.

Steve said...

Jim Russel:

If Ms Shepard's parroting of the party line on the Harry Shearer "dibs rule" controversy is "a surprising robust job," I'd hate to see a lame job.