Frequently Asked Questions
More information about the TAO of Journalism.
How did this idea get started?
At a Journalism That Matters conference in Washington, D.C., in 2008, John Hamer of the Washington News Council was thinking about how journalists demand that everyone they cover be transparent, accountable and open -- but what about journalists themselves? Isn't it a two-way street? He realized those three words spelled "TAO" and proposed a breakout session on the "TAO of Journalism." About two dozen conference attendees showed up to discuss the idea and help refine it. In 2009, at another Journalism That Matters gathering at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, Hamer floated the idea again and convened another breakout session. Several attendees came and talked it over -- including Tom Stites of The Banyan Project, who encouraged Hamer to pursue it. At a third Journalism That Matters event at the University of Washington in Seattle in January 2010, the "TAO of Journalism" was informally launched. Several attendees took the "TAO pledge" and/or bought T-shirts displaying a TAO logo. Others signed up at a Society of Professional Journalists convention in Seattle in April 2010.
What has been the reaction so far?
The TAO of Journalism idea has been favorably received and written about by several prominent media organizations, including internationally (Media Standards Trust and Journalism.co.uk in England), nationally (Columbia Journalism Review, Media Ethics magazine), and regionally (Puget Sound Business Journal, Crosscut) and several independent blogs. In addition, about two dozen individuals and/or organizations have agreed to "take the TAO pledge" and display the seal on their websites or in print. (See DIRECTORY page for a list.) Also, John Hamer has spoken about the TAO concept to several groups including Rotary clubs and journalism classes. The reaction has been extremely positive.
What is the overall goal?
As numerous public-opinion surveys have shown, the level of public trust in the news media is low. With the explosion of new media sources online, many citizens are even more confused about who they can trust in the mainstream media, independent media, and the so-called blogosphere. Surveys also show that institutions and individuals that are transparent about who they are, accountable for their performance, and open to citizen input are the most trusted. A TAO pledge/seal is a way for journalists to publicly declare that they will live up to those basic principles as a way to earn trust. It's no panacea, but it may help.
Is this a "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" for the media?
Not exactly, because the TAO seal is totally voluntary, self-selected and self-affixed. It will not be overseen or enforced by the Washington News Council or any other organization. TAO pledgers will voluntarily agree to abide by the basic principles of Transparency, Accountability and Openness. As John Hamer said in Columbia Journalism Review (quoted by Craig Silverman):"Journalists instinctively react negatively to anything that smacks of licensing, certification, regulation, oversight -- there is great resistance....I think the beauty and the appeal of the TAO seal is its simplicity. We don't specify which ethical codes or what standards you're going to follow -- we just want you to be open about them. Just tell us."
How will use of the TAO Seal be overseen?
The goal is to encourage the public to provide oversight and determine if TAO seal users are living up to the pledge. There will be no official oversight group, licensing body or regulatory association. The hope is that engaged citizens will offer feedback online. As Hamer told CJR: "We want to crowdsource ethics." However, this website has a "Sealbreakers" page for reports of violations. Repeated violations could lead to a review or hearing by a peer review group made up of other TAO pledgers, who would determine if permission to use the seal should be revoked.
Are any similar efforts under way?
The non-profit Media and Society Foundation in Europe is working to provide ISO certification to media organizations, as Silverman noted, but that includes regular auditing and organized oversight. Past efforts to design and implement various media-ethics seals have not gained much traction. (NOTE: If you know of other similar efforts, please let us know!)
Are you open to suggestions?
Absolutely. This is a work in progress and still experimental. We welcome feedback and ideas on how the concept can be improved and made more effective. We pledge to be transparent, accountable and open in our efforts to promote the TAO concept.
Any final words?
Just TAO it!
If you have other questions, please contact us.