Journalism Students take the TAO pledge!

The TAOttoo - graphic by Summer Thornfeldt

“Do you like tattoos?” was my standard pickup line.

OK, pretty cheesy, but hey, it worked most of the time.

I was sitting at a table at the Washington State Convention Center for two days last week surrounded by about 4,000 high-school journalists from all over the country.

It was the national Journalism Education Association/National Student Press Association’s annual spring convention. The Washington News Council had an information table in the exhibit hall, along with dozens of college journalism schools, printing companies, yearbook publishers, etc. Most of the exhibitors had elaborate displays with banners, literature, video screens, bowls of candy, notepads and other giveaway items.

How to get students to stop at our table? We decided to give away temporary tattoos, which we unashamedly called “TAOttoos.” The words “TAO of Journalism – Transparent, Accountable and Open” surround a black-and-white yin-yang symbol in a circular seal about the size of a poker chip.

They were the inspiration of Kathy Schrier, the WNC’s part-time executive assistant, who is also executive director of the Washington Journalism Education Association and helps organize this conference every year.

I wore a TAOttoo on the back of each hand. I’d hold them out to show the kids as they walked by with their backpacks, gift bags, notebooks, cellphones, printed programs and handfuls of candy from the other tables. Most slowed down and stopped to learn more.

Here was my pitch: “The word TAO means ‘the path’ or ‘the way.’ This is a voluntary pledge to be Transparent about who you are, Accountable when you make mistakes, and Open to other points of view. If you take the pledge for your high-school newspaper or yearbook, you can wear and display the seal. If you do it today I’ll give you TAOttoos for every member of your staff. I’ll give you a cool poster with the TAO Pledge to hang in your newsroom. And I’ll send you a digital version of the TAO Seal to print in your paper or post on your website. It’s free. All I need is the name of your publication and an email address.”

By the end of the two days, about 200 students from all over the nation had taken the pledge and put the TAOttoos on their hands, wrists, arms, necks or cheeks. I insisted they put them on before they left the table, and even provided wet paper towels so they could apply them on the spot.

Jacob Caggiano, my young WNC communications specialist, took over the table for a few hours one day while I did a session on the TAO concept in a large WSCC meeting room, and a roundtable discussion on opinion/editorial writing.

When I got back, I heard Jacob deliver his own version to a couple of young girls who approached the table: “So, tell me about your ethics,” Jacob said to them.

They giggled – and stayed to chat. They took the pledge and signed the sheet. He gave them a poster. He gave them TAOttoos. They put them on the backs of their hands and seemed delighted at the result.

Another girl came by and took the pledge. She was an artist and showed us her portfolio. About two hours later, she came back with a graphic she’d just done and said we could use it on our website.

Summer Thornfeldt of Boise, Idaho, thanks for the TAOttoo art, which we’ve posted here.

It’s totally TAO — Transparent, Accountable, and Open. How cool is that?

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About John Hamer
JOHN HAMER is President of the Washington News Council, an independent forum for media fairness that he co-founded in 1998. Hamer was formerly Associate Editorial-Page Editor at The Seattle Times and previously Associate Editor with Congressional Quarterly/Editorial Research Reports in Washington, D.C. Read more about John or read John's blog posts.

Comments

  1. Stephen says:

    Great news, John and Jacob! This is indeed a great way to get out the word and create understanding of the ethics and principles of journalism!

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