Elizabeth Jensen | KERA News

Elizabeth Jensen

The debate over abortion rights is emotionally charged. The language NPR uses to discuss the issue should not add to the drama.

This principle applies, of course, to any number of topics in the news that NPR covers. But the legal battle over the right to an abortion is particularly fraught, and the language used to discuss it has become a key tactical weapon used by both sides as they seek to tap into those emotions.

Morning Edition listeners could not have been surprised: NPR gave them lots of heads up that new theme music was coming this week, the first change since the show went on the air 40 years ago. And the music is actually better described as "new-ish" than "new."

Nancy Barnes started as NPR's senior vice president of news and editorial director in late November, replacing the yearlong interim newsroom leader Christopher Turpin (who replaced the ousted Michael Oreskes). Barnes has been quiet about her priorities for NPR since, citing a desire to listen and learn during her first three months.

An announcement from NPR today is sure to make at least a couple of listeners and readers happy: NPR has changed the official title of my job to "Public Editor," from "Ombudsman."

NPR rolled out its labor-intensive process of almost simultaneous fact-checking on Tuesday night for President Trump's State of the Union speech. It also checked Stacey Abrams' Democratic response.

A listener wrote: "What ethical calculus has been used to decide that NPR will broadcast POTUS live?"

He was referring to President Trump's Oval Office address tonight, his first from that venue. It is expected to be on the topic of immigration and his demand, as part of the negotiations to end the partial government shutdown, for funding for some kind of barrier on the southwest border.

A few weeks back, a reader wrote the Ombudsman Office with "a small simple gripe." He had a thought about a story and wanted to get a comment to the NPR journalist who wrote it. He couldn't figure out a way to do that, noting that he uses no social media channels. "I e-mail, that's all."

He concluded: "Please allow for some sort of 'contact via email' access."

In June, the editor who oversees NPR's standards and practices, Mark Memmott, laid out what I called an "ambitious" goal: to halve the number of monthly mistakes. At that point, NPR was posting corrections at a rate of about 100 a month, which he called "unacceptable."

A new newsroom system was put in place. Memmott set a target date of October.

Note to readers: this post uses profanity that may offend some.

NPR is changing the way it labels opinion content online next week. Readers of npr.org will be well served by this move, which will more clearly distinguish news content from pieces that express personal opinions or take sides on an issue.

Starting July 25, online content that is currently labeled as "Commentary" — including pieces on the 13.7: Cosmos & Culture blog and the NPR Ombudsman column — will instead be called "Opinion," highlighted in bright blue. Book, movie and television reviews will also get a new blue "Review" label.

NPR remembered colleagues David Gilkey and Zabihullah Tamanna at a memorial service at Washington, D.C.'s Newseum on Tuesday morning. Gilkey, an NPR photojournalist, was killed in Afghanistan on June 5 with Tamanna, NPR's Afghan interpreter and a fellow journalist. As NPR's The Two-Way reported, "David and Zabihullah were on assignment for the network traveling with an Afghan army unit.

The plaintive email came into my office Wednesday night from Joseph Suste of Medford, Ore. In total, it read: "Why isn't NPR covering the Bernie Sanders campaign?"

My even shorter answer? NPR is (although Suste has lots of company among listeners who believe the coverage is missing). But other listener questions need a fuller answer.

A Morning Edition report on Monday with the headline "Congress May Be Forced To Intervene Again On Mammogram Recommendations" drew some sharp rebukes, many of them from physicians who expressed deep concern over missing context.