‘The Pub’ #62: Jay Rosen on his love-hate relationship with public media

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Rosen and Ragusea (Photos: Grant Blankenship, Georgia Public Broadcasting)

New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen is hardly the only critic alleging timidity and false balance on the part of public media journalists. But his most cutting criticism is a much simpler allegation: lazy reporting.

Whether it’s individual or institutional laziness, Rosen says he is frustrated by how often NPR reporters in particular seem to throw up their hands and cover controversies without trying to discover which side is right (which he argues is not the same as arbitrating who is right).

Rosen is famous for applying the paradoxical phrase “the view from nowhere” to the conventionally impartial journalism that he feels NPR epitomizes. Nonetheless, he told me on The Pub that he is “a total fan of public radio” — more a “loyal critic” than the peanut-gallery bomb-thrower that some in public media might perceive him to be.

rosen_02“I understand that people who work in the system get frustrated with me and think I don’t know what I’m talking about, and a lot of times I don’t. I’m just a listener who’s pissed off,” he said with a chuckle.

Rosen was the main attraction at a live recording of The Pub on my home turf — Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism, which he visited this week.

Also on this week’s episode, I argue that the podcasting industry is becoming dangerously concentrated in New York, and that public media in particular has a responsibility to shift or disperse the city’s on-demand–audio gravity well before it collapses into a black hole.

Please subscribe to The Pub in iTunes or your favorite podcast app, and leave us a rating and a comment! That will help boost our search results and allow people to find the show more easily.

We welcome your feedback on the show: You can reach me at [email protected] or @aragusea on Twitter; my supervising producer at Current, Mike Janssen, is at [email protected]; and you can contact Current generally at [email protected] or @currentpubmedia on Twitter.

If you’d like to offer a comment to be used in the program, please send on-mic tape (recorded in a studio, with a kit, a smartphone, anything) to [email protected] either as an attachment or through Google Drive. Please keep it short!

Adam Ragusea hosts Current’s weekly podcast The Pub and is a journalist in residence and visiting assistant professor at Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism.

22 thoughts on “‘The Pub’ #62: Jay Rosen on his love-hate relationship with public media

  1. Agreed. Rachel Martin spoke to a Republican strategist named Rob Jesmer several weeks ago on Weekend Edition Sunday. Jesmer, like others on the right, has made allusions to the harm that President Obama has done to the country and like all of the others, offers nothing in the way of details to illustrate what he is talking about:

    “And as a Republican and a conservative and one who thinks the Obama
    administration has been very harmful to our country, I think it’s pretty
    clear the problem is the president (laughter) and that – and the
    Democratic Party.”

    I’m a military veteran (and a former Republican of 20+ years) and I see how these loaded statements are put out to be propagated by the faithful… and I hear veterans spouting and repeating them. Jesmer and the others decrying President Obama’s record are certainly not talking about the performance of the economy or the stock market under Obama. I suspect they’re not talking about the jobs numbers or the increase in domestic energy production under Obama, either. I wish someone would challenge these assertions when they’re only intended for political gain.


    • Christopher Simpson

      ‘Peanut gallery bomb thrower’? Perhaps this is an unspoken but widespread attitude at NPR and even at Current about critics of NPR content.

      It seems revealing to me that Current had to reassure its audience that Prof. Rosen did not fit into the category that ‘some in public media might perceive him to be’. Next read the exchange that followed: Bevilacqua felt compelled to explain his own credentials, then noted that Current had previously taken a pass on raising this critique.

      Zarroli’s extended, very defensive response seemed to me to prove Rosen’s point. Zarroli is a business reporter for a national network, but not a tax specialist? OK. Then it is his job to interview someone who is a tax specialist. And Zarroli writes that he did not approach the controversial report as a ‘he said, she said’ story? OK, just read the actual text of the report and decide for yourself whether that national reporter had been able to hear or to understand Rosen’s critique at all.

      Face it: NPR’s basic problem is not with ‘peanut gallery bomb throwers.’ The root of the problem is NPR’s own institutionalized arrogance and isolation from its audience — a problem that is more similar to those of more traditional news networks than might be comfortable.

      • So to be clear, I am not Current. I’m a journalism professor in Georgia who used to do public radio, and while Current does give me a platform by letting me do this show, my opinions are my own.

        The reason I said some in public radio consider Rosen a “peanut-gallery bomb-thrower” is not because he is a critic. It’s because he is an often snarky critic. I’m a huge admirer of Rosen (which is why I had him on my show) and I agree with nearly everything he says, but I do think sometimes he exhibits a little too much glee in trashing the work of real-world professionals who are just doing their best under often challenging circumstances.

        I think Zarroli has some smart counterarguments to Rosen, and if you want to hear more of them, listen to this week’s episode, which will post shortly.

        Regarding this Bevilacqua guy, I have no idea who he is other than someone who posts (what are in my opinion) uninformed comments on articles he doesn’t seem to have fully read for the purposes of promoting himself, hence his weird practice of inserting large photos of himself in all of his comments. I searched his name at NPR.org and it looks like he contributed a handful of pieces about 10 years ago. I have no idea if Current has actually rejected interviewing the guy; my guess is he’s not even on their radar, and I can see why.

        I would agree that public media people don’t always handle criticism well (remember that I am presently a professional critic of what they do) and that institutional arrogance is a problem, but I also understand where it’s coming from. The kind of complaints they get are often so insane, so ignorant, and so contradictory that it’s only natural to slough it off and keep your head down. I mean, what are you supposed to do when half of the commenters think you’re in the tank for Israel and the other half think you’re in the tank for the Palestinians? It’s an impossible situation for them, and I am sympathetic.

        That doesn’t stop me from criticizing NPR et al on this show every week, yet Current keeps letting me do it, and NPR people keep consenting to interviews with me. I don’t think anybody here is as allergic to criticism as you allege.

        • Hi Adam. Thank you for the note. You make some good points. Still, consider this — You say you’re not the Current, OK. But the webpage identifies you as “Adam Ragusea hosts Current’s weekly podcast The Pub and is a journalist… [etc.]” Excuse me.
          You’re free to say what you wish on the podcast, of course; you put Rosen on the show, and did defend him on several points. Much of your introduction and of your follow-up note acknowledges that NPR does have exactly the problem I identified — institutionalized arrogance and isolation from its audience. So we have some analysis in common. You feel more sympathetic and forgiving to journalists than I seem to.
          Here is where we differ: Everyone knows journalism is a tough job, AND that NPR journalists enjoy a number of nice advantages for which most of today’s surviving journalists would give their eye teeth. So the challenges Zarroli and others face at NPR cut both ways, so to speak. In this particular case, Rosen’s comments about lazy journalism were on the mark.
          That many people say crazy stuff in online comments is a given.
          I confess that one of my pet peeves is when editors of ‘letters’ columns post one letter criticizing (say) ‘Red’ followed by an equally hostile letter criticizing ‘Blue’, or whatever. That then used as a meme to say ‘See, we must be doing our job right’. That is roughly the same meme that NPR uses to defend its Israel/Palestine coverage, violence in America coverage, economic crisis coverage, and most other controversies.
          But I think that is evading responsibility for (1) reporting thoroughly and (2) acknowledging that their individual and institutional prejudices do influence coverage. Journalism IS a tough, tough job when the opinions of audiences and of elites (and of management, sponsors, etc.) are highly splintered. But when NPR reporters or management decide to ‘keep their heads down’ it is time for them to move on. There are lots of talented people out there.

      • Christopher Simpson; sorry old boy, but I get the impression that things have gone just a bit pear-shaped on you, to wit, I have no clue whatsoever, what it is you are talking about. Now run along, old boy.

  2. Good interview.

    There’s nothing wrong with wanting more fact checking and so on, but that’s a separate issue from the supposed “view from nowhere.” The latter is essentially a straw man.

    As Adam pointed out, there is no “view from nowhere,” and no one I know of who understand the issues, or isn’t stretching to make the the ideal of objectivity look ridiculous, uses that term. Rosen misinterprets what NPR does, imputing notions of “there is no truth,” “we have no point of view,” or helplessness. NPR doesn’t claim or imply such things.

    The view NPR comes from, or sometimes aspires to come from, is settled facts and the shared values of the target audience.

    Rosen believes NPR’s neutrality damages trust. It does, among those whose trust depends on hearing their opinions privileged over those of others. I think if Rosen checked the political leanings of those whose comments he’s seen saying they don’t trust NPR because of “he said, she said” journalism, “false balance,” or similar ideas, he’d find they’re overwhelmingly on the Left. This kind of complaint has become part of how many on the Left naturally respond to journalism that doesn’t fit their point of view as much as they’d like. It’s in part an overreaction to the successful use of standards of fairness and balance by climate change skeptics and Intelligent Design proponents, along with the success of openly biased conservative media, mixed with some bad philosophical ideas.

    But NPR is still the most trusted news outlet among “consistent liberals,” the term Pew assigns to those with the most consistently liberal views, 72% of whom trust NPR. Where NPR has much more serious trust problems is among “consistent conservatives,” only 3% of whom trust NPR. Some on the Left blame conservatives for that. I think it has more to do with the fact that NPR’s personnel are overwhelmingly liberal, something conservatives easily notice the effects of.

    To earn trust, it’s important for NPR not to abandon its standards of neutrality, but to improve them. That’s completely consistent with doing a better job of fact checking, as long as the facts checked aren’t limited to those liberals want checked.

    • But what about the leftists like Lisa Simeone, who when interviewed by Adam grudgingly admitted that NPR people are socially liberal but lean more towards the right when it comes to economics? What about all those “Nice RePublican Radio” putdowns on left-of-center message boards? The attacks from far leftists on stories on the military (including the ludicrous claim that StoryCorps–STORYCORPS–is pro-military), business reporting (in the tradition of Studs Terkel’s “They’ve got a business section in the papers, why don’t they have a labor section?”) and pop culture (although the complaints from the pompous seem to come from both sides)? The claim from the Bernie Bros that NPR is in the tank for Hillary Clinton (which only the most rabid right-winger would call a lefty)?

      • I’m not sure which part of what I said you’re responding to, but as you can see from the numbers I quoted there’s quite an imbalance in the levels of trust of NPR between the Right and Left. NPR, like journalists generally, is liberal on social issues and more centrist on economic issues.

  3. As one of the reporters cited by Professor Rosen I want to clarify a few things.
    First, I do not specialize in tax questions. Not sure where he got that.
    Second, please note what he said:
    “I just find it hard to believe that an economics reporter for NPR who’s been on the beat for a while, who specializes in tax questions would leave us in limbo like that. ‘Some people say the US has the highest business taxes in the world. And other people say actually no, they’re the lowest.”
    But in fact I did not say some people claim we have the lowest taxes in the world. As you can hear in the podcast, I said US companies have lots of ways of reducing their taxes. This is absolutely true, and and it is not at all at odds with saying the US also has the highest tax rate in the world, on paper.

    • Jim, can you provide a link to the story in question? I’d like to take a listen myself.

      Speaking more broadly though, any time a reporter says “some people say” I see massive red flags waving. I don’t want to be too harsh until I have a chance to listen, but in general that’s a phrase that any reporter should run away screaming from. It’s too easy to use it to do exactly what Jay is afraid of: report what other people SAY is correct instead of actually reporting what IS correct.

      • The story is played in the podcast, or at least the part Rosen cares about is. I agree with you in general about “he said she said journalism.” Reporters sometimes lean on “some people say” to avoid choosing sides, and it is lazy. But Rosen misrepresents what I said in order to make it seem like I did that. He says I said, “some people say taxes are high, some people say they’re low.” If I had said that, it would have been stupid and it would indeed be “he said she said journalism.” But that’s not what I said. What I said is, “critics say the US has the highest corporate tax rate, while others say US companies have ways to reduce their taxes and most do.” Both of my statements are completely true. The US DOES have one of the highest tax rates in the world and many companies CAN lower their taxes through various legal means, partly because congress has used the tax code to reward some industries and not others. I know people want me to make a definitive statement like, “Taxes are high!” or “Taxes are low!” but the truth is somewhere in between, and how much you pay depends, for instance, on what kinds of credits you qualify for and how much business your company does overseas. As the host of this podcast points out, it is very hard to get this kind of nuance across in a quick hit three minute story. You can blame me for saying something that confused listeners but you cannot say I am guilty of “he said, she said journalism,” which is, after all, the subject of this podcast. Oh and it would have been nice if someone contacted me for a response. It’s kind of Journalism 101

        • I’d been hoping Rosen himself would respond here, any he may still, but I suppose it’s time for me to get into this.

          1) Jim, your NPR bio says you specialize in taxes, among other related issues, so it’s not as though Jay is making something up. You could argue that he oversimplified the nature of your beat, but that leads me to…

          2) In general, I think you’re committing the same sin against Jay that he has committed against you: expecting an unrealistic level of refinement from extemporaneous remarks. No, Jay didn’t perfectly paraphrase what you said. But I think his point is still valid.

          You summarized two arguments that, while not directly contradictory on issues of fact, do support opposite conclusions. You probably could have given a little more information to help the audience decide for themselves which argument is stronger, and you also could have avoided “some say” language on one or two sentences in which you were discussing facts, not opinions.

          But as I said in the show, I personally think that would have been too much detail on something that was really beside the point of the two-way, and I think you did the right thing.

          3) Here’s why I didn’t call you for comment.

          This was an interview, not a reported piece. When I interview people about media (which is what I do on this show), it is likely that many specific pieces of work are going to come up, and many critical things will be said about them. It is neither practical nor desirable for me to always seek comment from the creators of those pieces after the interview is over, and then to present their counterarguments as an addendum to the interview.

          When Robert Siegel interviews Paul Ryan and Ryan says something critical about President Obama, Siegel is not always obligated to call the White House and request a comment to be presented immediately after the Ryan two-way. It’s usually enough for Siegel to simply push back on the criticism himself.

          I do think I would have been obligated to seek your comment post-interview if Jay had made a more serious accusation — that you’d falsified something, for example. Or, perhaps if he was singling you out, saying that you do something different or worse than your peers. But this was a relatively mild criticism about something that he thinks is emblematic of NPR style generally.

          I totally understand if smart people disagree with my calculation here, but there it is. For me to end a live show, and then come back in with a postscript in which I present a counterargument to something that was said 15 minutes ago, it’s gotta be a pretty extreme situation. I just don’t think this incident rose to that level.

    • “Jim Zarroli is a business reporter for NPR News, based at NPR’s New York bureau. He covers economics and business news including fiscal policy, the Federal Reserve, the job market and taxes. Over the years, he’s reported on recessions and booms, crashes and rallies, and a long string of tax dodgers, insider traders and Ponzi schemers.” http://www.npr.org/people/4581822/jim-zarroli

      That’s where I got the claim that Jim Zarroli has special expertise in taxes.

      When I said, “Some people say the US has the highest business taxes in the world. And other people say actually no, they’re the lowest” I wasn’t quoting Jim Zarroli. I was making reference to a fruitless debate one hears a lot in US politics. And I was saying that he brought us a version of that debate that was equally fruitless. Yes, I exaggerated the clash of views to make a point. I thought that was clear. Adam told me he would be including the clip from ‘Morning Edition’ in the show so it’s not like I was trying to get away with a false paraphrase that listeners would have difficulty realizing.

  4. Jay Rosen is expressing exactly what I have been saying, even to Current staff, for over 10 years. Bravo for finally doing something on the subject, even if you have not ever interviewed me on the subject, in spite of being a 40+ year, award-winning pubradio vet. ;-)

    It has gotten much worse during the 2016 Presidential Election, where NPR is pretty much ignoring candidate Bernie Sanders, while cheering Hillary Clinton on. Not one reporter has dug into why, for example, Sanders votes are being removed in nearly every state.

          • Yes. I have been doing so for about 30 years. I have seen the deterioration of how the news is covered. Once public radio began taking corporate underwriting money, The Pandora’s box was opened.

            2014 NPR financial SUPPORTERS

            20th Century Fox Home Entertainment



            Acorn Media

            Adobe Systems

            AEG Live

            Al Jazeera America

            Allegro Media Group

            Amazon Services

            American Committee for the

            Weizmann Institute of Science

            American Express Company

            American Heart Association

            American Institute of Architects

            American Jewish World Service

            American Occupational Therapy


            America’s Natural Gas Alliance

            Anchor Bay Entertainment

            Angie’s List

            Ann Arbor Area Convention & Visitors


            The Annie E. Casey Foundation

            ANTI- Records


            The Argus Fund

            Arizona State University

            The Arts Center of the Capital Region


            AT&T Performing Arts Center

            Atavist Books


            Atlanta Symphony Orchestra


            ATO Records


            Barnes & Noble

            Barracuda Networks

            Beggars Group

            Berkley Books

            Berlitz Languages

            Better World Club



            Blue Apron

            Bluebeam Software

            Bose Corporation [MIT]

            Brigham and Women’s Hospital

            Bryant University


            The Bydale Foundation


            Cabot Creamery Cooperative

            Cancer Treatment Centers of America

            Candlewick Press

            Capitol Records




            Carnegie Corporation of New York


            Certified Financial Planner Board

            of Standards

            Charles Schwab Corporation


            Chicago Zoological Society


            CIGNA Foundation


            Citrix Systems

            City National Bank

            Cleveland Clinic


            Columbia Business School

            Columbia University


            Concord Music Group

            Concrete Marketing

            The Conservation Fund

            Constant Contact

            Corporation for Public Broadcasting

            Courgette Records

            Craft in America

            Creative Artists Agency

            Croshal Entertainment Group

            CSX Corporation

            Def Jam Recordings

            Delta Air Lines

            DK Publishing

            Domino Recording Company

            Doris Duke Charitable Foundation

            Dow Chemical Company

            The Ducommun and Gross

            Family Foundation

            Dutton [Penguin]

            Easton Press

            The Economist



            Endless Pools

            Entertainment One Music

            Epitaph Records

            Esurance Insurance Services

            Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

            Fairfax Economic Development



            Fathom Events

            Fifth Generation

            The First Tee


            Focus Features

            The Ford Foundation

            Ford Motor Company

            Fox Broadcasting

            Fox Searchlight Pictures

            Friend Trusted

            Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

            General Dynamics Information


            George Lucas Educational Foundation


            The J. Paul Getty Trust

            Glass Doctor


            Glimmerglass Festival


            GPK Foundation

            G.P. Putnam’s Sons

            William T. Grant Foundation

            The Great Courses

            Greensboro Partnership

            The George Gund Foundation

            Hachette Book Group USA

            Harlequin Enterprises

            Mary W. Harriman Foundation

            HarperCollins Publishers

            Harvard Extension School


            Headline Shirts


            Henry Ford, The

            The William and Flora

            Hewlett Foundation


            Hilton, Lisa

            The Holborn Foundation

            The Honest Company

            Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


            IFC [World Bank]


            Indiana University

            International Rescue Committee

            It Books

            Italian Embassy


            John Wiley & Sons

            Joseph Drown Foundation

            The Joyce Foundation

            Kennedy Space Center

            Kirtland Records

            John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

            Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

            Kobalt Music


            The Kresge Foundation

            Lackberg, Camilla

            The Jacob & Valeria

            Langeloth Foundation

            Laura and John Foundation


            Lemelson Foundation

            Level 33 Entertainment

            Leon Levy Foundation


            Liberty Studios


            Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts

            Lindamood Bell Learning Processes

            Lionsgate Home Entertainment

            Little Pim

            Little, Brown and Company

            Live Nation

            Living Essentials


            Louisiana Office of Tourism

            Leon Lowenstein Foundation, Inc.


            Lumber Liquidators



            The John D. and Catherine

            T. MacArthur Foundation

            Mack Avenue Records


            MassMutual Financial Group

            Matador Records


            McKesson Corporation

            The Melville Charitable Trust

            Merge Records

            MHI Global

            Microsoft Corporation

            Millennium Entertainment


            Motor City Casino

            Moyers Media

            MPI Media Group

            Mute Records

            Mystic Seaport

            National Association of Realtors

            National Association of Social Workers

            National Endowment for the Arts

            Natural History Museum

            of Los Angeles County


            NBC Universal


            New York Health & Racquet Club

            The New York Times

            Newman’s Own Foundation

            Nonesuch Records

            Nora Roberts Foundation

            Northwestern University

            Novo Nordisk

            Offce Designs

            The Ohio State University

            Medical Center


            Open Road Integrated Media

            Open Society Institute

            Orange County Community Foundation

            The Orchard

            The Overbrook Foundation

            Pajamagram Company

            Pantelion Films

            Paramount Pictures

            Park Foundation, Inc.


            PBS Distribution

            Peerally, Shah

            Penguin Group (USA)

            Performance Bicycle

            Perimeter Six Press

            Perseus Books Group

            The Pew Charitable Trusts



            Progressive Casualty

            Insurance Company

            Public Interest Pictures

            Public Welfare Foundation, Inc.


            Random House

            Raymond James Financial



            Red Light Management

            Redeye Distribution

            Regus Group Companies


            Relativity Media




            Rhino Entertainment


            Road Scholar

            Robert Sterling Clark Foundation

            The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation


            Ross University


            Salsa Labs

            San Francisco Symphony


            Sawyer Studios

            The SCAN Foundation


            Science & Technology

            Directorate (DHS)

            Secret City Records

            SenArt Films

            Sennheiser Electronic Corporation

            Shakespeare’s Globe


            Simon & Schuster

            Skoll Foundation


            Smile Train

            Sony Music Entertainment

            Sony Pictures

            Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

            Source America

            Southern Ground Artists


            St. George’s University

            St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital


            State Farm Mutual Automobile

            Insurance Company

            Ste. Michelle Wine Estates


            Sub Pop Records

            Subaru of America

            Submarine Entertainment



            Sy Syms Foundation

            T. Rowe Price


            Temple University

            Texas Children’s Hospital

            Texas Mutual Insurance Company

            Thomson Reuters Corporation


            TimkenSteel Corporation

            Tire Rack



            Tribeca Enterprises

            Trunk Club

            Truth in Advertising

            Union of Concerned Scientists

            Unisys Corporation

            United Concerts


            Universal Music Group

            Universal Uclick

            The University of California,

            Los Angeles

            University of Notre Dame

            The University of Texas MD

            Anderson Cancer Center

            University of Texas Press

            Vanderbilt University Medical Center

            Vanguard Records

            Vermont Teddy Bear Co.

            Viking Press

            Viking River Cruises

            Virginia Energy Sense

            W.W. Norton & Company

            The Wallace Foundation

            Walt Disney Studios

            Walton Family Foundation

            Warner Bros. Pictures

            Warner Music Group

            Warp Records

            Washington Square


            The Weinstein Company

            Wells Fargo Advisors



            The Wild Animal Sanctuary

            The Wildflower Foundation, Inc.

            William Morrow & Co.


            Wyncote Foundation

            Yamaha Entertainment




            Zurich North America

          • Your copy-and-paste list includes not-for-profit organizations and foundations. How about reading more carefully–or are you more concerned with embedding pictures of yourself in your posts?

  5. Referencing laziness: it’s easy for a public radio station reporter to win awards when required to produce one or two stories a month. Too little is expected.

    • I have never seen a station where reporters are only expected to produce one or two stories a month, except in investigative units. Most work like dogs and pump out content at inhuman rates.

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