Every day my office answers dozens of questions and investigates a variety of concerns from NPR's audience. We thought it would be useful to post answers to some of the more commonly asked questions, including the office's objectives, the difference between NPR and local stations, funding, corrections, underwriting policies and just what is an Ombudsman and how do you pronounce it?
If your concern is not addressed here, please feel free to contact me.
—Alicia C. Shepard
Updated on 11/1/2010
What is an Ombudsman?*
An Ombudsman is the public's representative in an organization, charged with responding to public questions, criticisms and complaints. An Ombudsman works to provide clear explanations, and/or mutually satisfactory solutions between the public and the organization. Ombudsmen can be found in government, corporations, hospitals, universities as well as at news enterprises.
Sweden appointed the first formal ombudsman in 1809 to handle citizen complaints about the government. The word is pronounced "om-BUDS-man" and is Scandinavian in origin.
Alicia "Lisa" Shepard is NPR's Ombudsman and sees no need to change the title to Ombudswoman. She is an award-winning media critic, university lecturer on media ethics, and former newspaper reporter. Ms. Shepard deals with public queries about journalistic issues; and reports some of her findings in her weekly column.
How does NPR's Ombudsman do her work?*
NPR's Ombudsman helps explain the often-complicated process of reporting a news event. She shares with the public how reporters, editors, producers, and other journalistic staff do their work and make decisions about news coverage.
Ms. Shepard's public activities include:
- Writing a weekly column on media matters which is posted and archived on NPR's website;
- Appearing on NPR programs to discuss journalistic matters;
- Providing guidance on journalism practices on request to NPR member stations;
- Responding to individual comments, queries and criticisms from the public.
Alicia Shepard is assisted by her staff who read emails and take phone calls every business day. The NPR Ombudsman receives more than 75,000 listener inquiries annually. Assisted by staff, Ms. Shepard listens to and monitors NPR's programs and web content for accuracy, fairness, balance, and thoroughness, and reads many comments, queries, kudos and complaints from listeners and web visitors.
When a query or complaint warrants her direct engagement, Ms. Shepard takes it up with appropriate NPR News and Digital staff and responds directly to the public inquirer. She might also write about the matter in her column for wider public interest and information.
*Adapted from the Organization of News Ombudsmen (ONO) website
Do all broadcast outlets have Ombudsmen?
No. In fact, few do. In 2000, NPR became the first U.S. broadcast news organization to create an Ombudsman position. See the Organization for News Ombudsmen for more information.
How can NPR's Ombudsman be truly independent when the position is paid for by NPR?
The NPR Ombudsman holds two-year appointment and is guaranteed editorial independence. She operates autonomously from NPR's news staff, using her professional judgment in reporting how and why something got on the air or on the web.
How do I contact the NPR Ombudsman?
Please use the "contact us" page, or call 202-513-3245. All calls will be listened to, and all emails read. We will try our best to get back to you. But due to the volume of traffic- some 75,000 emails last year alone- not all will receive an individual response. Many will be forwarded to the appropriate news person inside NPR.
The Ombudsman will post a column once a week. We invite you to comment on the post and you are free to keep the discussion going.
What is the difference between Listener services, Communications and the Ombudsman's office?
Listener Services helps NPR listeners locate information about what they hear on the air, or find a story, or get a transcript. For questions, please call NPR Listener Services at (202) 513-3232 Monday-Friday, 10am -5pm EST.
NPR Listener Services also provides weekly public tours of NPR studios in Washington DC., as well specialized group tours of NPR West .
Washington DC Headquarters tours are held at 11am EST every Thursday, meeting at our lobby located at 635 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC 20001. No reservations are required but you must have a government issued photo ID.
NPR West offers public tours on Thursday at 8:30am PST, at 9909 Jefferson Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232. Tours must be booked one week in advance as there are limited spaces. NPR also provides tours for university groups, media students and other organizations. For tour information, call 310-841-0640. NPR West has limited parking space but metered street parking is available.
NPR Communications handles the public representation of NPR. They promote awareness about NPR and its member stations as incomparable sources of news, talk, music, and entertainment programming. The department also works in collaboration with NPR's station support services, including online, audience research, on-air promotions, development services, and programming, to help stations attract and build diverse audiences. They also deal with press inquiries.
The Ombudsman's Office investigates inconsistencies and ethical concerns about NPR's journalism. The office is committed to creating transparency and communication within the newsroom. Using the NPR Code of Ethics, the Office of the Ombudsman ensures that NPR programming and hosts/reporters refrain from biased and inaccurate coverage.
How do I submit a correction?
Please visit our Corrections page to see if the error has already been resolved, or write to Corrections@npr.org.
Will my correction be broadcast?
Not necessarily. Each show determines how to handle on-air corrections. Most corrections are aired in the "letters" segments.
Are biographies of NPR reporters and hosts available?
Yes. Yes, they are.
Why haven't I heard stories about a particular subject on NPR?
NPR produces 39 hours of news programming each week on "Morning Edition", "Tell Me More", "Talk of the Nation" and "All Things Considered". The network also distributes hundreds of hours of programming produced by local stations, such as "On the Media", "Car Talk", "Fresh Air" and "The Diane Rehm Show". NPR distributes 1,500 hours of programming weekly to the 800-plus NPR Member stations around the country. One of the best ways to check what NPR has broadcast is to search for your topic.
NPR also distributes programs internationally via NPR Worldwide.
Is NPR on satellite radio?
NPR has a contract with Sirius Satellite Radio providing two channels- NPR Talk and NPR Now- which offer "Car Talk", "Fresh Air", "Talk of the Nation", "Prairie Home Companion", "Marketplace" and many others.
Why can't I listen to "Morning Edition" or "All Things Considered" on satellite radio?
These two newsmagazine are the most listened to programs in public radio. Covering national and international news with the quality and depth that NPR does is expensive."Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" are possible because NPR member stations pay significant program fees to NPR. Those fees largely finance the production of these news shows and in turn, "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" help stations raise substantial contributions from listeners. Importantly, that listener support is the largest source of revenue for NPR's local stations. Providing the newsmagazines on satellite radio would disrupt this model and could undermine NPR stations.
Where are NPR's U.S. offices?
NPR's headquarters are in Washington, DC. In the U.S, NPR has correspondents, regional editors, or studios and full bureaus in Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Los Angeles (Culver City), Miami, Nashville, New York, Portland, Raleigh, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and Tucson.
Where are NPR's production studios?
NPR shows are produced in Washington, DC; at NPR West in Culver City, Los Angeles; and at NPR NY, in Manhattan.
NPR Headquarters are located at 635 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC 20001, between the Mt. Vernon Square/7th Street-Convention Center Metro Station and the Gallery Place/ Chinatown Metro Station, via the Green, Orange, Red, or Yellow Lines.
NPR West (in Culver City, CA) is NPR's second largest facility. Established in late 2002, NPR West is designed to provide back up for NPR headquarters should NPR headquarters be unable to broadcast programming. NPR West expands NPR's capacity to bring comprehensive news of the West to its national newsmagazines, newscasts and cultural programming. The bi-coastal "Morning Edition" is broadcast from DC and Culver City.
Where are NPR correspondents based outside the U.S.?
There are 18 bureaus around the world located in Baghdad, Beijing, Berlin, Cairo, Dakar, Senegal, Hanoi, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Johannesburg, Kabul, Afghanistan, London, Mexico City, Moscow, Nairobi, Kenya, New Delhi, Rio de Janeiro, Rome and Shanghai.
How many of my tax dollars go to NPR?
NPR receives no direct funding from the federal government. Less than two percent of the budget is derived from competitive grants from federally funded organizations such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Science Foundation, and National Endowment for the Arts.
Approximately half of NPR's funding comes from NPR member stations. In an average year, NPR funds about 45 percent of its operations with membership dues and program fees from member stations. The balance of NPR's annual revenue is derived from private foundations, individuals and corporations, in the form of grants, gifts, investment proceeds, and corporate sponsorships. NPR receives some revenue from distribution fees and fees from tapes and transcripts. Financial statements, based on annual audits, are available in NPR's most recent Annual Report (5.7 MB - Requires Adobe Acrobat).
What is "Underwriting" and is it different from Advertising?
Yes, underwriting is different from advertising. NPR is an independent, nonprofit organization that carries no on-air advertising. One of the ways NPR funds programming and general operations is through underwriting and sponsorship support from corporations, foundations, and associations. This support provides virtually all of NPR's contributed income.
Unlike advertisements, NPR's on-air underwriting credits are only 10-seconds long— just enough time to state the organization or company name. Regulations from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) govern all underwriting and sponsorship announcements by NPR and public radio stations. The regulations require NPR and stations to provide funders on-air recognition while stipulating that these credit announcements are strictly for identification- not promotion.
Credits may contain:
- a neutral description of products or services
- a recognized corporate slogan that identifies the company or products
- a statement of business locations, a Web site, or a toll-free phone number
- the organization's mission
- a mention of the particular NPR programming being supported
- the duration of the business or service
The credits are informational and acknowledge a contribution but- unlike advertisements- cannot include a call-to-action. For example, NPR can announce "This show was sponsored by Ken's Barbecue in Austin, Texas." They cannot say: "This show was sponsored by Ken's Barbecue. Go to Ken's Barbeque for the best ribs in Texas. This week only: All you can eat barbeque for $5.95."
How do I suggest a story?
Please use our submission form.
How do I submit a commentary or essay?
Please use our submission form.
Where can I send an idea for a new NPR program?
Please contact Stacey Foxwell, Project Director of Programming.
Where is NPR's station?
NPR is not a local station. NPR produces and/or distributes 1,500 hours of programming weekly, including more than 150 hours of news, information, talk, entertainment and cultural shows for the 800-plus NPR Member stations around the country. Since its launch in 1970, NPR has evolved into a leading multimedia company, award-winning primary news provider and dominant force in American life.
NPR also programs two 24/7 channels for Sirius satellite radio and five 24/7 music multicast channels for digital HD Radio for its member stations. NPR has served as an industry leader in HD research and development. NPR produces nearly 90 podcasts, making it among the biggest podcaster in American media companies. NPR's website offers extensive original video and audio content, hourly newscasts, concerts and free audio streaming of current and archived NPR programs.
What's the difference between NPR and my local public radio station?
There's a big difference. Local stations are independent and autonomous from NPR. Local station management make their own programming decisions, and typically offer a variety of shows from various sources including NPR.
NPR provides the most-listened-to programming in public radio, with a weekly national audience of 26.5 million listeners. Other independent producers and/or distributors include Public Radio International and American Public Media. This means that rarely would one hear the identical programming on any public radio station.
Local stations solicit direct support from listeners through regular over-the-air membership pledge drives. As a membership organization, NPR supports stations' pledge drive efforts, but does not solicit financial support for itself over the air from listeners. If you have a complaint or compliment about a particular locally produced show, you should bring it to the attention of your local station's general manager. If it's an NPR show, the local station can bring it to NPR's attention or you can contact my office directly. Information about every NPR Member Station is available. You should always feel free to contact the NPR Ombudsman as well.
How do I locate my local station?
Please visit our Domestic AM/FM page.
Where can I find a schedule of my local station's programming?
Please visit our Schedule page.
Podcast Questions and/or Issues
Many of your Podcast concerns are addressed on our Podcast page.
Is NPR hiring?
Please visit our Jobs and Training Opportunities page to see which jobs are currently available.
Does NPR hire interns?
Please visit our Jobs and Training Opportunities page to see which internships are currently available.
Check back often as we will frequently be posting answers to more questions and updating information.