Chapter Review

Tompkins, Al. “Tell the Story Online”. Aim for the Heart: Write, Shoot, Report and Produce for TV and Multimedia, 2nd Edition. Washington: CQ Press, 2012. 171-195. Print.

About the author

Al Tompkins is Sr. Faculty for Broadcast and Online at The Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, FL. He is a broadcast veteran with more than 25 years of newsroom experience and 15 years of journalism teaching experience. He has been awarded the Peabody Award, and many other prestigious awards and honors too numerous to list here. Mr. Tompkins is currently pursuing his masters degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln and received his bachelor of science degree in journalism from Western Kentucky University.


Chapter 13 of Aim for the Heart is entitled “Tell the Story Online”. This chapter takes the storytelling principles of broadcast journalism and explains how they can be applied to online journalism. In explaining the former, Tompkins lays out three learning outcomes:

1. How to think interactively

2. How reporting and writing for online are different from writing for television

3. How to ethically use social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook

How to think interactively

The chapter’s first section, Rules for Online Storytelling, thoroughly covers how journalists can incorporate interactivity into their stories and websites. Before elaborating; however, he points out one of the “worst mistakes” journalists can make is to believe that “online news should be the same as what we put on television but shorter” and that “online news should be just like what we put on television only longer” (172). He goes on to give – and explain in depth – ten rules, or as he likes to call them “strongly worded guidelines”, for online storytelling. These “guidelines” range from using Search Engine Optimization (aka SEO) on headlines to optimizing and using raw video on the Web to explaining when and how to use elaborate presentations.

How reporting and writing for online are different from writing for television

This second section, entitled Reporting and Writing for Online in the book, is no less thorough than the first section. Tompkins goes into detail about 8 ways online and television writing are different. He starts by emphasizing the importance of keeping track of a website’s “key performance indicators” or KPI, making sure to mention that to “Web geeks” this was known by the term “analytics”. He goes on to address issues ranging from verifying linked sources and copyright/fair use guidelines to Web skills journalists need to get or keep their jobs.

How to ethically use social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook

In the third section, entitled Ethics and Social Networks in the book, Tompkins writes that in early 2010 he sat down with Kevin Benz, news director of News 8 Austin; Stacey Woelfel, chair of the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA); Ryan Murphy, media attorney; and Richard Goehler, Carol Knopes, and Kathleen Graham, of the Radio Television Digital News Foundation to draft what they considered to be guidelines for the ethical use of social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, wikis, and online chats (191). This section of Chapter 13 is a reprinting of the guidelines found on the RTDNA website, and officially named “RTDNA’s Social Media and Blogging Guidelines”.

RTDNA’s Social Media and Blogging Guidelines are divided into 3 categories: Truth and Fairness, Accountability and Transparency, and Image and Reputation. Each section gives clear, easy to understand instructions and also helps the journalist or blogger reason through trickier issues such as determining if an online source has the legal right to post certain material(s) before linking to it (as explained on page 189, linking to another site/source can imply that a journalist endorses the site/source as legitimate).


I would say that Al Tompkins more than accomplished the goals he set with the 3 learning outcomes at the beginning of the chapter. He is very thorough and I did not find any weaknesses in the chapter. I haven’t read the entire book, yet, but if allowed to make a recommendation based on reading one chapter, I would not hesitate to recommend this book to others. In fact, I wish I would have bought the book sooner, being that it has been referenced in prior classes I have taken as a digital journalism major.