On ombudsmen, feedback and reporting

I caught an interesting Connection Show the other day where Dick talked with the NPR ombudsman, Jeffrey Dvorkin. NPR has like 30 million listeners a week! They are hiring new people and expanding and growing (thanks to some new grants and funding) while most other media outlets are shrinking and consolidating.

The discussion was largely about feedback, and how the ombudsman position functions within NPR. I felt they talked about allowing feedback like it's some kind of novelty. I thought this was odd because LISNews is completely open. We get feed back on every story instantly, along with email, and the contact us form, we're an open book. There's not really any need for an ombudsman.

They brought up a number of interesting points I couldn't help but think about in relation to what we do here @LISNews.

They say that they've tried to broaden what they report on and try to make it news for the people. National Public Radio is supposed to be for the Public rather than corporations and shareholders.

Who has influence on the media these days? Ask 10 people and you'll get 5 different answers, the callers during this show were no exception. "It's obviously the conservatives." "The entire industry is all a bunch of liberals."

They mentioned how they get their expert opinions. Think Tanks make their people available and have a huge influence on what they report on. While Academics are hard to track down and get on the air. While I'm sure think tanks fall all over themselves to get mentioned anywhere, I found it hard to believe it's hard to find a professor that wouldn't make time to speak to a few million people.

The really amusing thing was the complaints from callers. One caller complained NPR is too liberal, the other complained they're too conservative. How can they answer that? It's such a subjective thing I realized. So many people on both sides are so dumb, angry and loud it's really impossible for them to know how they're doing based on most of the feedback they get. They mentioned they thought how people judge what is reported can be framed largely by what those people believe the direction of the world is taking Most people only want to hear their own opinions reflected back to them. Sort of like Cass Sunstein’s "law of group polarization", "when like-minded people deliberate as an organized group, the general opinion shifts toward extreme versions of their common beliefs"? They wanted to present not just one perspective or one audience, but rather cover multiple sides, and this is guaranteed to offend.

An interesting point was news organizations are only really responsible to their shareholders, but not their audience, or if they are it's indirect. That leads to bias, and sensationalism. I'm not sure for-profit corporations always perform most effectively in all industries. I'm also not sure what a workable alternative would be in most cases, but NPR seems pretty decent most of the time in the media arena. This is one reason I'm happy that we're not supported by ads at this point here @LISNews. The Google ads pay for a little less than half of the cost of hosting LISNews, and since I have no control over what ads show up, I need not worry about offending our advertisers.

Some interesting comments on language and how things are framed and repeated from news outlets influences how people hear a story. They mentioned the need to be more skeptical and tougher on news sources. Reporters need to be skeptical, careful of words and phrases from any sources. This, of course, takes time and money, is the competition between media outlets to blame? Is the rush to be first with a story blinding news outlets to the propaganda they repeat from think tanks and spokespeople? Things need to be tested and challenged they said repeatedly.

An interesting phrase was "Citizens first and listeners second." They say when they choose what to report they choose to inform the readers, because their job is not to deliver ears to advertisers, but rather report and then let people decide. NPR is important because (they said) it's reliable and not ad driven, it serves it's listeners.

They mentioned how they seek to put things in context, to make useful news available and really explain it well.

So how can we make LISNews better? What issues can we report on? Who do we need to challenge what we post? Do we need an ombudsman? Do blogs need ombudsman?

Comments

Careful!

but rather report and then let people decide.

I can just hear Fox News lawyers on the phone now!

Speaking of bias...

I've seen it linked to a few times in the past 2 days: the list of cognitive biases at Wikipedia. Comes complete with definitions and who determined what they were and how they affect us and our thought processes.

I enjoy listening to NPR although the folks I listen with tend to garble it all up with their general comments agreeing with what they view as a liberal bent to the reporting. (See, here's that bias thing rearing it's ugly head again.) I find the reporting to be balanced and informative. Then again, I'm likely to ferret out the facts for myself rather than have it fed to me in small bits.

As for an ombudsman for LISNews, I think we do a pretty good job of "policing" ourselves and respecting the opinions of others. If we appoint an "internal affairs officer" I think we are defeating the purpose of the community that has grown here.

My $0.02.

Re:Careful!

heh, yeah, I left out a wise ass crak about Fox in that sentance.

Re:Speaking of bias...

Neat list, I saw that too the other day, good stuff. I think you're right, we do a really good job of "policing" ourselves. I try to keep things open.

Re:Speaking of bias...

I'll agree. Even turning Anonymous back on seems to be working OK at this point. There might be reason for an ombud function if a case could be made that the set of people who approve stories are biased in what they approve--and given that anyone with an account can start a journal (it's so easy even I could do it!), someone with such a case could certainly try to make it. I doubt that the case exists.

The Case has been made

I think the term was "you make me sick" from the far right and the far left. There are MANY people who can approve stories, though I'm the one that makes people sick for some reason.It's like you said, thick skin

Ha!

I listen to Juan Williams on Fox Sunday and want to tear my hair out. If he represents NPR I'm not buying the 'balanced' arguement. Of course then there's Garrison Keillor which doesn't help your case any either.

Is LISNews balanced? Not even close. Factor in all the little digs with title headings and horrible Ashcroft graphics and not just the stories but how they are presented and the vast majority of what goes on here tilts left. A case for bias in articles? Two words: Laura's Bush.

The only thing that puts LISNews above everything else, including NPR, is that its open to all-comers. The fact that our profession tilts heavily left means the site tilts heavily left but the handful of us from the right are still free to make our case for as long as we have the energy to click and type and I humbly tip my hat in appreciation for that oppurtunity.

Re:Ha!

First of all, those were hilarious Ashcroft graphics, not horrible, they're also gone. Saying that those were hateful or spiteful or anything else they were called is just plain wrong. That's like saying the nut icon for the librarian topic is hateful as well.You case for bias in articles doesn't fly either. You're comparing stories about a sitting first lady who prides herself on her past life as a librarian and (at the time) the wife of a presidentail candidate. You're also (I think) assuming that whoever (or is it whomever?) didn't post your story on Kerry posted the Bush stories. I deleted your submission from the queue because it was pointless, and you'll notice I didn't post those Bush stories. There are a couple dozen people who can post stories or delete them from the queue. LISNews is a many headed beast, accusing LISNews of being biased doesn't fly because there are many authors with many view points who have the freedom to write about what they want.LISNews is balanced because it is open. I get accused of being liberal by you and your buddies, and accused of being conservative by folks on the other side, this leads me to believe I am being balanced. I've heard "you make me sick" from both of them. You spend all your time crying about liberal bias so you'll find it here, there, and everywhere. They spend all their time crying about conservative oppression so they'll see it here as well. Because I disagree with you doesn't mean I agree with them (not an easy concept for either of you to comprehend).

Re:Ha!

Can I have this snippet, Blake, as my endnote on posts? This is great! "Because I disagree with you doesn't mean I agree with them ." --Durst

Re:Ha!

You're taking this too personal. Obviously there are many contributors, the majority of which tilt left. That's the point and that's the bias. You deleted one story but not another, others posted a story but wouldn't have posted the one you deleted. Different decisions by different people all from a liberal standpoint all pushing in the same direction.

Don't accuse me of crying about liberal bias, out of the over 800 comments I have very few deal with bias. Its not a big issue with me I simply get a kick out of those who say there isn't any. Bias is the norm no matter where you go.

Don't you cry about people saying you make them sick. *I* haven't said it, I wouldn't say it. As for balanced, you may not be a rabid liberal but your still a liberal based on the comments I've seen. If you'd like to state your positions up front to try and prove otherwise be my guest.

Re:Ha!

>>You're taking this too personal.I'm really not taking it personally at all, if it sounded loke that from my comment it shouldn't have. I'm rather bad at "voice" things in my everyday writing I've come to learn. I'll occaisionally take things personally, but this really was not one of them, this is all a discussion I've had many times, and it's one that I like to get dissenting opinions on.>>Don't you cry about people saying you make them sick.Nor was I crying about that, but rather making the point that I manage to make both your friends and your enemies sick, which leads me to believe I am finding some middle ground (or at least I like to believe that whether or not it's really true).>>your still a liberal based on the comments I've seenI'm sure we have different definions of liberal, and for that matter, conservative. Like I said, because I disagree with you (neocon) doesn't mean I agree with them (liberal), or to puti it another way, I can not be a neocon and not be a liberal, which I also assume you'll disagree with. And you'll probably also take exception to me using neocon. But such is life, we agree on little around here, nothing wrong with that.

Ombudsman

I really think we are our own ombudsman. There are conservatives on here who are not afraid to talk or provide balance to liberals like myself. Since it is a wide open forum, the role of ombudsman is unneccesary. I think it's important when you have a limited amount of access for people to express what they feel is important. That is not the case here.

Please leave the blogs as they are. LOLOL

Re:Ha!

Rabid liberal! Damn it! I forgot my shots this week. I should have figured since I haven't had a glass of water in 3 days. I'm probably going to get cranky too since I get my distemper shots at the same time. ;)

Re:Ha!

Yeah, that's not too bad is it?

Re:Ha!

You can use neocon if you want but since almost nobody seems to know what it means its basically a slur more than a political view.

Re:Ha!

Everyone knows what it means. Here's a hint, a neocon says things like " I will and do gladly and proudly "impose my values" on patrons."Are you a neoconservative? Take this quiz to find out.

Re:Ha!

Actually a lot of plain ole' conservatives will tell you the same thing. And since you've recently made arguements supporting filters yourself you are saying it as well. So if I'm a neo, you're a neo.

Re:Ha!

Ha!

Re:Ha!

It's a nice, positive, variant on "The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend"--something the U.S. government, among others, tends to forget.

Dvorkin is great reading (I like his voice too)

If you take time to read his essays and comments on the NPR site (a new one every 2 weeks or so), I think you'd really like him. I have no idea if he has a great effect on NPR, but he shares enough stuff that sounds like criticism of NPR that you can't accuse him of being soft on them. Here's the direct link to his column.

Honestly, you can't please anybody -- especially NPR listeners -- for long if you try to please everyone, and Dvorkin has to know it. I'd like his job, if only for a day or two, to see what sort of calm, rational email and phone messages he gets (right!).

Re:Dvorkin is great reading (I like his voice too)

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?story Id=4527072

Dvorkin gets to be the guest on Talk of the Nation today, March 8.

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