Frequently Asked Questions: Ombudsman Edition : NPR Ombudsman Fast answers to common questions.
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Frequently Asked Questions: Ombudsman Edition


Recent mail to the Ombudsman's inbox has overwhelmingly been about NPR's recent political coverage, but every once in a while, we get a familiar, nonpolitical question. We've answered a few of the most common questions here.


Listener Doug Ellis recently wrote to ask why the videoconferencing and voice call app Skype is often mentioned: "I've observed many an NPR interviewer introducing his or her interviewee 'reached via Skype.' Why do we care about Skype? We never say, 'reached via Verizon,' do we? It's really odd. Does NPR think Skype is still some future technology to brag about? Just curious why Skype is always credited."

The short answer is that the Skype Terms of Service require NPR to state that the service is being used. NPR's Standards and Practices editor Mark Memmott offered examples of natural ways to add the credit into the mix in a March "Memmo" to staff journalists.


Following the news of rising rates for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, one listener questioned how NPR referred to the healthcare law: "How is it I'm hearing a news update about The Affordable Care Act but instead of referring to that there is constant referral to the term coined by the nasty obstructionist uncooperative Republicans, Obamacare? It is NPR's responsibility to see the terms, and the Republican shenanigans, for what they are."

In 2013, former Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos explored what listeners hear when NPR refers to "Obamacare" instead of the "Affordable Care Act." He concluded that "the term 'Obamacare' has entered the general vocabulary as a largely neutral term. How most of us understand it depends on what we think of the law, and of the president."

Mr. President

Speaking of the president, listeners often wonder why NPR doesn't show more respect by using the honorific "Mister." You can read Schumacher-Matos's post from 2013, when NPR changed its stylebook "and dropped referring on-air to the president of the United States as 'Mr.' in second references."


Some time ago, we asked the staff in the newsroom how they chose who is wished an on-air happy birthday. Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep answered: "It's done by the person writing the open[ing statements]. It is art rather than science. The Associated Press has a daily list of birthdays as well as moments in history. There are occasionally other sources. In my case, when writing the [copy], I am drawn toward these things, in no order: (a) people or historic events that seem to have some relevance to this moment, and ideally this very hour of the show; (b) women and people of color; (c) a person or event that will get people thinking; (d) someone whose existence it's just nice to be reminded of. Sometimes other people on the staff will suggest a choice for me, or object to a choice of mine, and then we sort it out."

"Live" From NPR News

Back in February, listeners noticed a small change in the hourly newscasts — the addition of an emphasis on "live." The radio broadcasts feature live updates every hour, though some parts of the newscasts still include recorded tape. Christopher Turpin, vice president for news programming and operations, said at the time that the "live" introduction is "one small part of a broader strategy to try to reinforce one of terrestrial radio's greatest virtues, which is live-ness and a sense of immediacy."

The caveat to this is digital, since the newscasts are also fed into the NPR One app and archived briefly online on the NPR homepage, where they are distinctly not "live."


Yup, you can't comment on this article. We are still hearing from site users looking for a way to weigh in, and will keep you updated on any newsroom efforts to create a place to do so. In the meantime, you can email us directly, or reach out on Facebook or Twitter. For more background, read the official NPR announcement and Elizabeth's thoughts on the matter.


We quite often get mail with questions or concerns about The PBS Newshour. Though we love our public media colleagues dearly, NPR and PBS are two separate organizations (although we do occasionally collaborate, such as for the joint PBS/NPR convention coverage). To contact the PBS Ombudsman, click here.