Posts made in February 20th, 2012

Establish public trust. Take the Pledge. Carry the Seal



A lesson plan for Wednesday of Scholastic Journalism Week. You can download the lesson here.


by Kathy Schrier

Scholastic Journalism Week is the perfect time for student media staffs to renew their commitment to practice ethical journalism that is Transparent, Accountable and Open (TAO.) One way to do that is to take the “TAO of Journalism Pledge” on Wednesday, Feb. 22.  A year ago, more than 1,000 student journalists around the country took the TAO Pledge and those student media groups now carry the TAO of Journalism Seal in their mastheads or on their websites.

The TAO of Journalism, endorsed by JEA, is an idea launched by the Washington News Council as a way for professional and student journalists, who care about building public trust in their work, to make a promise to practice ethical journalism. Since its launch three years ago, journalists around the world have signed on and now carry the TAO of Journalism Seal. Go to to learn more or to take The Pledge.

Student groups who take or renew the TAO of Journalism Pledge will receive a poster of the TAO of Journalism Pledge, temporary tattoos of the TAO Seal for all staff members.

Here are some ideas for a successful TAO of Journalism Pledge day in class:

First: Present the following questions for discussion:

1. Are we a trusted source of news and information for our school? If yes, what makes us trustworthy? If no, why not?

2. Are we trusted by our administrators? If we must submit material to administrators for prior review, what can we do to reestablish their trust?

3. If student journalists make all content decisions without prior review,  how do we show our audience, including our administrators, that we are committed to being a trusted information source?

(Suggestion: Show short Powerpoint: “Transparent, Accountable, Open; Basic Media Ethics for Student Journalists.” Contact for PPT copy.)

Visual:  Project the TAO of Journalism Pledge from

• Read through The Pledge as a group.
• Decide if taking the TAO Pledge would fit with the mission of your staff.
• If so, take the TAO Pledge.
• Have your staff photographer take a picture of your staff taking The Pledge.
• Have an editor fill out the Student TAO Pledge registration form on “The Pledge” page.
• Email your photo to along with a caption and photo credit to be posted on a Student TAO Pledge Pics page.

What will you get:

  1. Temporary tattoos of the TAO of Journalism Seal for all staff members.
  2. Poster of the TAO Pledge for your staff room.
  3. Listing on the TAO of Journalism site, with a link to your homepage.
  4. Photo of your staff taking The Pledge posted on the TAO Pledge Pics page.
  5. Bonus for advisers whose students take The Pledge before the end of February: a TAO of Journalism thermal travel  cup.


Taking the TAO of Journalism reminds student journalists to be conscious of the role of ethics in the work they do; and to think about the importance of earning the trust of the public they serve.  There is something powerful in making such a public promise, then posting the TAO Seal as a reminder to live up to that promise.


Next, look for five “bell ringers —  short discussions or activities to use right when class starts.

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All we have to lose is our credibility


SJW 2012


by H. L. Hall

As we celebrate Scholastic Journalism Week this month, it is imperative we keep the 45 words that help students cover sensitive, controversial issues in a responsible manner. It’s amazing to me every time I teach a workshop, a seminar, or even a session at a JEA convention, I try to give (normally $20) to the first student who can recite those 45 words. In the last 20 years (not counting the $1 I give advisers at the ASNE Reynolds Institute at Kent State each summer), I have only had to dig in my wallet for a total of $40. I am yet to give away $35 to advisers each year at Kent State, but I have witnessed some clever ways to recite the words.

Is it really difficult to memorize those 45 words? They’re really quite simple. They are: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” I hope those 45 words are posted in large bold letters on every classroom wall.

The First Amendment Center has conducted several surveys over the years concerning the Amendment . Those surveys have revealed that not even half of Americans can name all five parts of the Amendment. That indicates to me that few people really care about the importance of those 45 words.

Even though the Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press, it does not give journalists the right to be irresponsible with those actions.

There are several examples of professional journalists who have lost their credibility because they have made up quotes, made up facts, failed to gather all the facts, manipulated photographs, plagiarized or violated copyright laws.

Student journalists might gain a better understanding of why they need to act responsibly when utilizing their First Amendment rights, if they researched the stories of some professional journalists who were irresponsible.

A good exercise would be to have students write a brief research paper or make a brief oral report about a professional who lost some credibility. Then they could analyze that person’s action and come up with suggestions as to how the journalist and his editors might have prevented the questionable behavior.

Some journalists to consider would be: Jayson Blair, Patricia Smith, Jack Kelly, Armstrong Williams, Howell Raines, Michael Kinney, Rick Bragg, Dan Rather, Bob Ryan, Mary Mapes, Bill O’Reilly, Griego Erwin, Rush Limbaugh, Mitch Albom, Bob Green, Jim Van Vliet, Janet Cooke, Patrick Schneider, Geraldo Rivera, Allan Detrich, Stephen Glass, Don Imus, Brian Walski, Bryan Patrick and Sari Horwitz.

Some of the journalists listed above lost their jobs. Others received suspensions. Others are still working journalists. Whatever the result, they caused their medium to lose some credibility. Once credibility is lost, it’s difficult to get it back. It might be a good idea to create a poster for the classroom which says “All We Have To Lose Is Our Credibility.” If those words are before students every day, they might think about being responsible with everything they do.

   Tomorrow: Second in a series of posts and activities to go along with Scholastic Journalism Week from the JEA Scholastic Press Rights Commission. Tomorrow’s will talk about the TAO of Journalism, what it means and how to sing up your staff to follow it. 


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