2020 Mid-Year Report to the Board

Jul 07, 2020

During the first half of 2020, CPB Ombudsman Reports about the future of public media and what role the Corporation of Public Broadcasting might play if more federal funding were to be approved for all news media attracted the most readers.

One of most widely read columns looked at the post-pandemic future of journalism and a possibility, raised by media commentators, of CPB becoming the Corporation for Public Media, possibly funding nonprofit news startups in addition to public broadcasters. One examined the availability of air time for local news content inside nationally distributed programs, especially as local new outlets shrink or disappear around the county. Another looked at a new emphasis on programming for tweens, an overlooked audience for pubcasters.  All ranked high in social media metrics.

Again, several listeners and viewers complained that the PBS NewsHour and NPR, in particular, were demonstrating a pronounced “liberal bias” that was unfair to the Trump administration. When pressed, they cited few specific examples, other than to say the news shows did not contain enough pro-Trump content to be “balanced.” That made it hard for the ombudsman to review and assess their concerns.

“It is not believable that you could be in your role and not be aware of the blatant bias of NPR.  Needless to say that it so extensive at this point that it would be easier to quote examples of when NPR is not promoting the agenda of the left.  Although, at this time I do not recall any such examples,” wrote one listener.

Of the reports examining content, a column exploring whether PBS violated its own editorial standards in airing “Clarence Thomas: In his Own Words,” a documentary about Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas was one of the most widely read reports and garnered the most Twitter impressions. It was met with accolades and criticism, depending on the writer’s political leanings.

Subscribers to the ombudsman e-newsletter showed a steady increase this period, up 7.3% to 425 since the last report at the end of January. Open rates for the newsletter also increased 8.8%, with just over 40% opening the email as of this report. Twitter followers to @janjlab, the largest distribution channel, plateaued at about 1,874, about the same as the last half of 2019.

Since the last semi-annual report on Jan. 29, 2020, the Ombudsman has received 51 emails and published 10 reports, continuing the rate of two a month.  Only one of those emails, protesting the Clarence Thomas documentary, led to an ombudsman column. Two columns were developed from news releases – one reporting on where the content from the newly funded Report for America journalists would appear on public radio stations, and one showcasing LA public media efforts to educate kids at home during the pandemic. Observations about trends and innovations in the media landscape informed other reports. 

To this ombudsman’s dismay this period, a system snafu caused 19 incoming emails from February through May to be directed to a junk mail folder instead of the ombudsman’s inbox and were not discovered until early June. Because the reduced traffic aligned with the generalized chaos of the early COVID-19 outbreaks, the cause was not immediately determined.

You can subscribe to CPB Ombudsman Reports at https://www.cpb.org/subscribe. Read more CPB Ombudsman Reports here.