Dear Giant Alibaba: Let My People TAO!

Note: this has been cross-posted at our new TAO of Journalism blog, see taoofjournalism.org/blog.

Forget David vs. Goliath. Try John vs. Godzilla. Seriously.

I’m stuck in an ongoing, multi-year, quasi-legal battle with Alibaba, http://news.alibaba.com/specials/aboutalibaba/aligroup/index.html the Chinese e-commerce company that is now the world’s largest online retail giant. They just reported a 66% jump in revenues to $3.06 billion, and are about to submit an IPO (Initial Public Offering) that could raise $15 billion. They’re huge!

I run a little NPO (Non-Profit Organization) called the Washington News Council. We have only about $5,000 in the bank and we’re closing our office on May 31 after 15 years, although we’ll keep our 501(c)(3) status and continue a few projects online, such as our “TAO of Journalism” pledge and seal.

That’s what the flap is about: A few years ago, we originated the “TAO of Journalism – Transparent, Accountable and Open” concept. It’s a voluntary pledge that anyone practicing any kind of journalism can take. It’s a promise to be Transparent about who you are, Accountable if you make mistakes, and Open to other points of view. That’s a pretty low bar. Your audience holds you to it.

We designed a TAO seal using the yin-yang symbol and applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) so we’d have some say over those who chose to use it. We consider it our intellectual property. Any journalist, blogger, website, social-media user, newspaper, magazine, TV/radio station, or newsletter can take the TAO Pledge and post the TAO seal in print or online. It’s a simple way to help earn credibility and win trust.

To promote the idea and have some fun, we also made TAO of Journalism T-shirts, a TAO poster, TAO coffee tumblers, TAO nylon flyers and even stick-on TAOttoos. The idea has slowly spread nationally and even globally. It’s especially popular among student journalists. The national Journalism Education Association endorsed it and has sponsored three nation-wide TAO Pledge Days when high-school newspaper staffers all over the U.S. took the TAO pledge and sent us photos.

Journalism students at Whitney High School (CA) take the TAO of Journalism Pledge.

Journalism students at Whitney High School (CA) take the TAO of Journalism Pledge.

So what’s our beef with Alibaba? One day a couple of years ago the USPTO sent us a letter saying that our trademark application was “on hold” because Alibaba wants to trademark the word “tao.” Really?

“Tao” means “the path” or “the way” in Mandarin Chinese, and has been used for centuries by millions of people. The word is common in book titles, products, restaurants, websites, etc. There are books on The Tao of Business, The Tao of Politics and The Tao of Teaching. I own The Tao of Travel, The Tao of Pooh, and the Tao of Cow. There’s a Tao of Badass book that gives men dating advice and another on The Tao of Sex (I don’t own either of those). There’s a Tao Restaurant in New York and a Tao Beach nightclub in Las Vegas. Tao is totaolly ubiquitaous!

So how could Alibaba possibly trademark “tao”? It would be kind of like trademarking “the” or “and.”

I asked a member of my WNC Board of Directors, who just happens to be former chief counsel to the former Governor of Washington (who just happens to be former U.S. Ambassador to China), what to do. Keep using the TAO of Journalism, he advised, but notify Alibaba. He helped me get some pro bono legal help from attorneys with a respected trademark and patent law firm. They wrote letters to Alibaba. No response.

Our attorneys drafted an agreement and sent it to Alibaba saying that we would not challenge their trademark if it is approved by the USPTO, if they would agree not to challenge our use of the word TAO as an acronym. Seemed reasonable, right? No response.

Meanwhile, we’re continuing to promote our TAO of Journalism pledge and seal. It’s spreading slowly but steadily around the world. We have TAO pledgers in India, Belgium, Spain, New Zealand, Colombia, including individual journalists and media organizations. Hundreds of high-school students all over the U.S. have taken the TAO pledge. We did a 3-part series explaining the TAO of Journalism that ran in The Seattle Times last year.

Can Alibaba possibly trademark the word “tao” and get all those who have used it to stop? Not likely, but who knows?

We’ll keep promoting the TAO of Journalism nationwide and globally. We’ll send posters, nylon flyers and “TAOttoos” to all who take the pledge. It’s free to student publications, but we ask for a $25 annual donation from individual journalists and $50 from media organizations, to help cover our costs of website maintenance, mailings, products, etc. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to Alibaba’s budget. Heck, it’s a drop in the Pacific Ocean!

If Alibaba decides to challenge us, what are they going to do? Seize our assets? Hack into our computers? Take us to court?

Dear Giant Alibaba: Let my people TAO!

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National Newspaper Ads: Neither ‘Smart’ nor ‘Sexy’

Image posted at: http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/romenesko/140127/thumbs-up-or-thumbs-down-newspaper-slogan-smart-is-the-new-sexy/ See if you can find the newspaper in the ad

The Newspaper Association of America (NAA) has just unveiled a new national advertising campaign whose slogan is “Smart Is the New Sexy.”

Huh? Whose idea was this? And what was the “Old Sexy” anyway? Dumb?

If they’re hoping to attract more newspaper readers and advertisers with this marketing come-on, it’s pretty lame.

The NAA developed a cartoonish “self-promotional” advertisement that about 2,000 daily and weekly newspapers nationwide will use in print, online websites and in social networks, or so NAA is hoping.

It features a skinny (geeky?) young woman with green hair and glasses sitting at a table with a cup of coffee. Does she look smart or sexy to you? If so, you need to get out more.

What might be a newspaper is sitting on the table – although it could be a placemat. On it is a dark blob that may be a headline, a photo – or spilled coffee. A vase of orange flowers provides….what?

Out of her head spring three thought bubbles – one with a tablet, one with a laptop and one with a smart phone. However, it’s not clear that any of them are open to newspaper websites. How smart is that?

“We want to remind people that newspapers are still the greatest source of news in the country, and to equate the reading of newspapers with staying informed and being smart,” Mark Contreras, former NAA board chair, told Editor & Publisher magazine.

The NAA’s strategy is to show that newspapers, far from being dead or dying, are still a major source of news, information and advertising even though their delivery systems are increasingly digital.

“The real story is that the medium is still relevant and robust, particularly print,” Contreras told E&P. “It’s gotten an unfairly bad rap over the past five to six years.”

That may all be true, but these ads are not likely to help. Besides, the slogan is borrowed from a “Big Bang Theory” TV episode in 2009, so it’s not exactly fresh.

Here’s an alternative ad-campaign proposal, offered to NAA free of charge as a public service.

If newspapers want to be “smart” and “sexy,” well, what are some elements of both that we can all agree on? Think of your own personal relationships. How about if newspapers adopt these three sure-fire attractants:

Transparency – Be totally open about who you are. Reveal your values, your goals, your motives and your biases. Don’t hide or dissemble about where you’re coming from. Don’t be phony or disingenuous.  You’ll be totally alluring.

Accountability – Admit it when you’re wrong. Apologize. Ask for forgiveness. Don’t be defensive, arrogant or vindictive. Show a little humility and vulnerability. Promise to try harder next time. You’ll be completely endearing.

Openness – Seek others’ opinions and genuinely value them. Ask for advice from those whose love, respect and loyalty you’re trying to earn. Take their suggestions to heart. You’ll be absolutely irresistible.

If newspapers practiced all those principles, they’d be much smarter and way sexier too. And it just so happens they can. It’s easy:

They should all embrace the “TAO of Journalism,” which means “the path” or “the way.” They should take the TAO of Journalism Pledge and display the TAO seal in print or on their websites.

The seal features the ancient yin-yang symbol, which represents the primal male-female bond, among other things. We also have some temporary stick-on “TAOttoos” that people can put anywhere on their bodies. They last for a week or so before they rub off…depending on where you put them.

This is an approach that could really turn readers on: Let’s just TAO it!

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Amy Meyer of EWU Awarded 2011 Dick Larsen Scholarship

Amy Meyer receives Dick Larsen Scholarship from Grant Larsen (left) and John Hamer (right).

Amy Meyer, who is studying journalism and visual communication design at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, was awarded the Washington News Council’s $2,000 Dick Larsen Scholarship at a reception June 10 in the WNC office in Seattle.

In an essay submitted as part of the scholarship application, Meyer wrote: “Journalists are agents of accountability to government, corporations and other large institutions. To maintain the profession’s credibility, journalists must be transparent, accountable and faithful to examine many points of view. The watchdog philosophy to treat persons in power with equal suspicion and skepticism is one of the main purposes of journalism. But those standing on soapboxes should prepare themselves for scrutiny. A journalist cannot be above the standards that he or she holds someone else to.”

Meyer, who has maintained a 4.0 GPA at EWU, is on the staff of the student newspaper, The Easterner. She also started an online community blog using her design, photography and reporting skills to cover Cheney and the surrounding communities. She is married and the mother of four children. She is a band parent booster for the Cheney High School Band, and a former board member of Habitat for Humanity in Spokane.

“Amy is one of the best writers I have seen in 20 years of journalism classes,” wrote William Stimson, director of the EWU journalism program, in a letter of recommendation. “Amy is the rare journalism student who is cultivating all of the abilities needed for multimedia journalism.”

Grant Larsen, Dick Larsen’s son; Suzie Burke, WNC Board Chair; and John Hamer, WNC President, presented the scholarship award certificate to Amy. Pete Sessum, last year’s Larsen Scholarship winner and a recent graduate of the University of Washington, also attended the reception.

The Washington News Council began its scholarship program in 2000, and has now awarded two dozen scholarships to students of communications at public or private colleges or universities in Washington state.

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Journalism Needs More Ombudsmen AND News Councils

Craig Silverman gives keynote speech to #ONO2011 meeting in Montreal. John Hamer of WNC (bald spot on left) listens along with Michael Getler, ombudsman of PBS (bald head on right).

“It’s really important that we have accountability mechanisms in journalism. When it comes to our own accountability, most news organizations are doing a pretty poor job, to be blunt.”

Craig Silverman, in keynote speech to Organization of News Ombudsmen (ONO) annual convention, Montreal

Craig Silverman, a regular columnist for Columbia Journalism Review and The Toronto Star, is also author of “Regret the Error – How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech.” 

In his talk to the world’s ombudsmen last week, Silverman cited several studies which found that 40 to 60 percent of news stories contained some kind of error! A comprehensive survey of U.S. newspapers found the highest error rate on record.
“We’ve been telling people for literally hundreds of years that when we make a mistake we correct it,” Silverman said. But the U.S. study found a correction rate of only about 2 percent.

“That is pretty outrageous,” Silverman said. “If we’re only correcting 2 percent of errors, we’re not meeting our own standards. It represents a serious failure on the part of news organizations.”

“Reporters will be inclined to not want to run a correction, because they’ve been trained that that’s a bad thing,” Silverman said. “They need to change that attitude.” He’s right on both counts.

What’s more, errors are “now forever,” because they are cached online, and spread worldwide by Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc., Silverman noted. Dealing with complaints about errors is one of the jobs of news ombudsmen – and also of news or press councils.

I joined the Organization of News Ombudsmen as an associate member last year, partly because I love the acronym – ONO! – but also because the Washington News Council is a kind of “outside ombudsman” for news media in this state.

Unfortunately, there are no full-time ombudsmen at any news organizations in our state anymore. That’s too bad. Over the years when I was at The Seattle Times, they had four different ombudsmen. A couple of them were pretty good. I edited their columns, which ran on the editorial pages.

Ombudsmen hear and respond to complaints from readers, viewers or listeners about news stories that are arguably inaccurate, unfair, imbalanced and/or unethical. That’s also what news or press councils do – and what we have done for the past 13 years.

Some say ombudsmen – since they are employed by the news outlets, have offices in or near the newsrooms, and generally know the editors, reporters, and producers – can deal with complaints more effectively. Of course, since their salaries are paid by those they are hired to critique, some also may question their level of independence. But most try to be fair, thorough and constructively critical. Many do criticize their own newspapers, broadcast stations, and/or websites strongly – and they’re often not too popular in newsrooms.

Also, the number of ombudsmen around the world has declined over the years – especially in the United States. ONO now has about 60 members worldwide, with only 20 in the U.S. Many media organizations say they simply can’t afford the position anymore, when they don’t even have enough reporters to cover their local communities.

Ombudsmen’s jobs have been eliminated at many American newspapers in recent decades – including at The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. At the same time, some of the best American newspapers – The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today – have created or enhanced the position, although some are called “public editors” or “reader representatives.” There are also experienced ombudsmen at most major broadcast news outlets worldwide. In this country, only PBS, NPR and now ESPN have ombudsmen.

Jeffrey Dvorkin, former NPR ombudsman who now is executive director of ONO, told his colleagues in Montreal: “The ombudsman’s job is like being on the front lines of the First Amendment…We’re in between the public and the editors. We point out the warts and flaws. The [news] organization doesn’t want to hear it. We’re speaking truth to power.”

Jacob Mollerup, the current president of ONO whose title is “Listeners and Viewers Editor” at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation in Copenhagen, wryly described the job as “a lonely hell.”

He was only half joking. ONO members often say they have “the loneliest job in the newsroom.” Most journalists don’t like to hear complaints about their work and are reluctant to make corrections or explain their performance in public – which is what they always demand of those they cover. Double standard? Unquestionably.

The annual ONO conference is an opportunity for attendees to come together, swap stories, compare tactics, and commiserate with others who are in the same boat. Three days of panels, speakers and “shop talk” – with a few dinners and receptions thrown in – clearly have a therapeutic effect.

A draft business plan, sent out in advance and discussed on the final day of the gathering, notes that ONO’s first goal should be as a “meeting place and discussion forum.” The Montreal conference, for the first time, was simultaneously translated into English, French and Spanish, which was a great help to all.

Another goal is outreach – promoting ombudsmanship in cooperation with partners around the world. That includes to “be a serious partner in media projects where different organizations join forces in order to promote media accountability.”

A third is to expand the organization: “ONO should welcome members of independent press councils as associates.” I was invited to speak on a panel at their convention last year at Oxford University on how ombudsmen and press councils can work more closely together. And Mollerup recently attended the Alliance of Independent Press Councils of Europe (AIPCE) conference.

A final goal is to keep an open mind for new projects and ways of promoting media accountability – including in cyberspace. That’s precisely what the WNC has been doing for the last few years, and I shared some of our ideas with ONO members:

  1. Report an Error. Silverman and Scott Rosenberg of MediaBugs have developed a new online “Report an Error” system now being used by about 100 news sites and blogs. The WNC has been working with them and we now have the “Report an Error” widget on this site. We invite readers to report errors in Pacific Northwest media as we test this intriguing new system.
  2. NewsTrust.net. We also invite them to nominate and review state and regional stories on our NewsTrust.net widget. You must register to become a reviewer and it’s a great tool, especially to praise high-quality stories.
  3. Online community.  People may join our online community and begin participating in discussions of various topics. Our groups have grown steadily.
  4. Online Media Guide. We’re also developing a new Online Media Guide (OMG) for Washington news and information sources, which will be a valuable resource for journalists, public-affairs professionals, politicians, academics, etc.

One of the most interesting speakers in Montreal was Guy Amyot, executive secretary of the Press Council of Quebec. His council, unlike some others in Canada and elsewhere, hears complaints about print, broadcast and online news media, not just newspapers.

“It is the liberty of the press to be independent from any power structure, but because of this freedom they have to be accountable,” Amyot said. “The media are not obliged to name ombudsmen and are also not obliged to join press councils.” But, he strongly suggested, they should do both. He’s absolutely right.

In order to maintain public trust and credibility, all those practicing journalism need to be more transparent, accountable and open. Ombudsmen and news councils can clearly help – if more journalists would only listen.

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TAO of Journalism gets national press on MediaBistro.com

We were thrilled to hear from Lauren Rabaino who blogs for 10,000 Words “Where Journalism and Technology Meet.” Lauren was equally thrilled to find out about our TAO of Journalism campaign and called up Executive Director John Hamer for a nice little feature piece.

Read about it here and share the love!

“TAO Of Journalism” Project Wants to Crowdsource Ethics, Increase Transparency

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Who Do You Trust? Not the media, despite all our efforts….

SHEESH! Maybe we should throw in the towel….

The Washington News Council’s mission since 1998 has been to help maintain public trust and confidence in the news media. But today trust in the media is at record low levels. We’ve failed!

We were just named “Organization of the Year” by the Municipal League. But perhaps we should give the award back. All our work seems to have been in vain.

That was clear from a depressing Seattle CityClub conversation last Friday (April 22) in the Rainier Tower. The topic: “Who Do You Trust?” The answer: No one trusts anybody very much.

[Read more...]

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Ethics of “Sting” Journalism. Can the TAO of Journalism help?

Watch WNC President and Executive Director John Hamer on KCTS Connects with host Enrique Cerna, discussing the NPR “sting” video and subsequent resignations of Ron Schiller and Vivian Schiller. This 12-minute excerpt also features Doug Underwood, journalism professor at the University of Washington. They focus on media ethics, public accountability and the WNC’s TAO of Journalism project. As Hamer correctly notes, ethics codes are voluntary, so should journalists work to build trust by pledging to be Transparent, Accountable, and Open?

Watch the full episode. See more KCTS 9 Connects.

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WOO-HOO! We met the Gates Foundation Challenge!

Photo by Kslavin on Flickr available here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kslavin/1019160565/#/

The Washington News Council met the Gates Foundation’s Challenge Grant target by raising $100,000 in total donations by the deadline of Jan. 15, 2011. We received the Foundation’s matching check for $100,000 in the mail this week. We are extremely grateful to the Foundation for its continued generous support of the WNC and our important work.

This news is especially welcome because we recently learned that the Minnesota News Council, which was the model for the Washington News Council when we were founded in 1998, is closing its doors after 40 years. The MNC’s president, Tony Carideo, told the National Newspaper Association’s paper (January 2011 issue) that an inability to secure adequate funding and a decline in the number of complaints were primary factors. The council’s former executive director, Sarah Bauer, told me that she would move into the offices of the Minnesota Newspaper Association, which founded the MNC, as its program director.

Over the past 40 years, much of the MNC’s support came from that state’s newspapers and other media outlets, including local television stations. However, their funding declined severely in recent years due to the financial problems of the news industry in Minnesota.

In contrast, the Washington News Council was not founded by or significantly funded by news organizations when we began. We invited news outlets to join us and help shape our council, but nearly all declined. Instead, we sought and received funding and support from foundations, corporations, associations and many individuals — and thus did not rely on media donors (which some might consider a conflict of interest in any case).

Still, the WNC did copy the MNC’s by-laws, guidelines and procedures when we formed. We flew their then-director, Gary Gilson, to Seattle in September 1998 for our kick-off breakfast at the Washington Athletic Club. Gilson and I personally visited newspaper publishers and editors in Seattle, Tacoma, Longview, Vancouver and Spokane to tell them about the WNC and encourage them to participate. We pointed out that public accountability through an independent outside citizens’ organization such as ours could help increase their levels of credibility and trust. Most did not see that then, but many have since come to agree. Even some major media leaders who initially opposed the News Council have since written us checks, co-sponsored our events and supported our scholarship program. We thank them!

We are sorry to see the MNC go, but are glad to report that the WNC is now stronger than ever. We have just matched (for the second year) a $100,000 Gates Foundation challenge grant to sustain and expand our activities in 2011 and beyond. We have diversified our funding sources and redesigned our website. Our online community is growing steadily. Our TAO of Journalism pledge and seal is gaining adherents nationally and globally. Our new OMG (Online Media Guide) for Washington state is in the advanced beta stage. We are active participants in the Journalism That Matters organization, and I am part of JTM’s guiding “Collaboratory” group. We have now awarded 22 scholarships to students statewide. We recently held our 12th annual Gridiron West Dinner, an entertaining and successful “toast/roast” of five former Mayors of Seattle, and are planning our next event.

When I ask people if a news council is still needed, with all the new and easy ways of responding to the news media on the Internet, through comments, blogs, hyperlocal websites, Facebook, Twitter and other means, they tell me: “You’re needed now more than ever.” Why? Because if someone or their organization is damaged by inaccurate, unfair or unethical news reports, online digital response mechanisms may not be enough. The News Council is still here to help review complaints and provide recourse to those who are damaged by media malpractice. Our phone continues to ring with calls from potential complainants. In some cases, we counsel them on how to obtain corrections, clarifications and/or apologies. In some cases, we mediate compromises with the media outlet. In other cases, we may hold a formal public hearing. Increasingly, we are taking our complaint process online — such as in the “virtual hearing” we held on a complaint from Secretary of State Sam Reed against KIRO7 Television. (Citizens upheld the complaint by overwhelming margins in a series of online votes.) Our website features a “Washington NewsTrust” section where the public can nominate and rate news stories, and we’re working with Scott Rosenberg of MediaBugs to make his innovative bug tracking system applicable to Washington state news media and give citizens another new feedback tool.

Moreover, while the MNC’s demise means we are one of the only remaining news councils in the United States (New England and Hawaii have smaller but similar groups), respected and robust press councils exist in many nations around the world and their number is growing. Last year we joined the Association of Independent Press Councils of Europe (AIPCE), which has several members (like us) outside of Europe. (See their website for a full list.)

The Minnesota News Council inspired us to form and their closure is a loss for Minnesota citizens and journalists. But we’re alive and well, and committed to our mission of promoting excellence and ethics in journalism. As an article in the same January issue of the NNA’s paper put it: “Washington News Council reinvents itself on the Internet.” They got that right, and we will continue to reset, reboot, recreate and reinvigorate ourselves. If you believe that high-quality, accurate, ethical news media are vital to democracy, join us!

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Ira Glass on broadcasting’s “failure of craft”

A radio personality filling a concert hall with fans? That’s pretty rare, but it happened Aug. 21 when Ira Glass, host of “This American Life” (TAL) on National Public Radio (NPR) appeared at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall. The place was packed.

Introducer Dan Savage, publisher of The Stranger, which co-sponsored the event along with KUOW-FM and Northwest Associated Arts, dead-panned that Glass “slept his way to the top…which sounds like fun until you remember he works in radio.”

Savage, who writes a sex-advice column, is a regular contributor to TAL. “He [Glass] keeps me around just for the sex advice,” Savage quipped, adding that “I know what Ira likes” but “I can’t tell you.”

(Glass is married. His wife is from Iraq, he said later in the program, and her family fled that country because of Saddam Hussein.)

After Savage’s intro, the house lights went out and Glass’s distinctive voice was heard: “I tried to talk them into doing the entire show in the dark, but they said no,” he joked. For those who find his voice somewhat affected, that’s really just the way he talks.

Glass described TAL – a program he originated in 1995 after 16 years as an NPR employee — as “applying journalism to things it doesn’t normally get applied to.” His goal is to add “fun,” “joyfulness,” and “surprise” to stories, he said. He noted that this “never happens in broadcast journalism,” which is “a failure of craft.”

Glass noted wryly that he used to listen to NPR stories thinking: “I would be a better person if I can get through this story.” The crowd applauded knowingly.

As TAL fans know – and they are a devoted group – Glass consistently tells interesting stories in an engaging way, unlike much of the broadcast media.

“Part of the job of journalism is not to describe what’s new, but to describe what is,” Glass said. “The world they describe is so much smaller than the real world.”

This is “one of the lousy things about doing journalism,” he added – i.e., that much reporting focuses on “massive, unsolvable” world problems. That “makes most of journalism such a drag and also makes it so inaccurate,” he said.

Describing broadcast journalists, he said that they sound like “talking robots….the esthetics of the language is so stiff” He called that “one of the reasons why journalism is having such a tough time now.” Television journalism is “doing terribly,” he said.

“The only people who are doing well is public radio,” Glass boasted – to more applause from his loyal fans. Seattle-Tacoma listeners on KUOW and KPLU make up TAL’s third-largest regional audience nationwide.

“Opinion in all its forms is kicking the ass of journalism,” he said. However, opinion and commentary – including much that is on NPR (even on TAL) – is clearly a major part of journalism. Surely Glass would acknowledge that. In fact, the lines between reporting and editorializing have crumbled, if not fallen.

Glass mentioned Glenn Beck, Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart as primarily news  commentators, adding that he’s a fan of Maddow and Stewart. As for Beck, he said: “That guy is fascinating,” but moved on without adding much detail. Too bad. Maybe Glass will do a story on Beck sometime. That would be interesting to hear.

Glass spent a lot of time talking about his approach to story-telling. A story is “not about logic, it’s not about reason, it’s about emotion,” he said. “You can use incredibly banal action to create suspense.” On radio, “you tell a story like you tell it in real life.”

He played several sample cuts, complete with the brief musical interludes that are a staple of TAL. His story about the veteran who allegedly dumped his wife’s ashes in a parking lot was fascinating; the story of the couple who went to a swingers’ party was really lame.

TAL’s basic formula is “action, action, action” followed by “thought,” Glass said. He noted wryly that he had “spent three years of [his] life inventing” that format – then realized that his rabbi did exactly the same thing, as did every other deliverer of religious sermons. In fact, he quipped, the entire Bible follows that formula!

TAL now has a staff of eight (it used to have four), and they review 25 to 30 ideas a week to produce three or four stories for the program. He invited the audience to suggest story ideas. (Hey, Ira, how about a story on the “TAO of Journalism”?)

“From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed, we’re bombarded by stories,” Glass said – on television, radio, print, and the internet – but “it’s rare to have stories that we can empathize with and that can touch you.”

That’s TAL’s goal, he said: “We live in such a divided country, it’s rare to get inside somebody else’s shoes. That’s what we try to do.”

Glass got a standing ovation. Clearly TAL fans think he succeeds — and most of the time, he does. TAL plays a unique and valuable role in American journalism and in American life. More journalists – print, broadcast and online – could take a lesson.

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Flynn’s Harp on Transparency and TAO Seal

Mike Flynn is former president and publisher of the Puget Sound Business Journal, who now blogs regularly. His latest blog is at http://www.emikeflynn.com/blog/ It’s a good read and insightful take on the Transparency issue. (To that point, Mike is a former member of the Washington News Council’s board of directors.)

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