In her last column as NPR Ombudsman, Alicia Shepard credited NPR for demonstrating a commitment to transparency and accountability by employing a journalist as an internal critic of its news coverage.
“They say this is the loneliest job in the newsroom – the public thinks you are a shill for NPR and NPR employees think you are an internal affairs investigative unit,” she wrote. “Often I’ve felt a bit like a security guard at a private party. Just my presence – and fear of being named in a column – may help to keep folks working hard to live up to the ethics and journalism standards that NPR has established.”
Since taking the job in 2008, Shepard has critiqued NPR’s journalism during a period of audience growth, service expansion, and the upper-management upheaval sparked by the October 2010 firing of news analyst Juan Williams.
Her biggest regret from her tenure as Ombudsman, Shepard told Columbia Journalism Review in a recent Q&A, was not pushing NPR’s leadership harder to address the conflicts created by Juan Williams’ dual roles as an NPR analyst and Fox News pundit:
“I saw the value of Juan Williams to NPR, but it just seemed that there was never a clear understanding of what his role was. By October of 2010, I felt that it really had become an untenable situation and difficult for him to straddle the role of being more of a provocateur on Fox and a straight news analyst on NPR.”