Writing news online

Aim for the Heart by Al Tompkins is so chock-full of journalistic wisdom for today’s journalist that one chapter could be published as its own e-book.

Chapter 13 of Tompkins book,“Tell the Story Online,” is that chapter. It helps print and broadcast journalists understand the potential of telling more vivid and layered stories online. The first thing Tompkins makes very clear is that just shortening a print story (or lengthening a broadcast story) for publication on the web is not the way to tell a story online.


Tompkins tells us that the online audience is different. This is an audience that wants choices on how the story is delivered to them. The story must be interactive. An online news consumer may read the story or choose to watch the accompanying video or interact with maps.

According to Tompkins, journalists should keep in mind the internet in the planning stages of writing the story. While interviewing, recording video  and taking pictures, journalists should plan how these elements can be used in their stories online.

So much of my news consumption is online and I like best the stories that provide me with more in-depth information on the story. I’m the reader who will click on the map depicting school shootings in the country, if one accompanies a story on the most recent school shooting. I’m the reader who will listen to the audio of the 911 calls or will click on the video of interviews with eye witnesses and survivors.

I’m also the reader who will download unedited transcript of a presidential interview.


One aspect of interactivity that Tompkins mentions is reader comments. Aim for the Heart was published in 2014 and at that time comments were all the rage. Everyone was touting comments on pages and how a journalist could interact with the reader. We’ve seen comments turn ugly recently, with the loss of civility, and a mere four years after the publication of Aim for the Heart, news outlets like NPR were getting rid of their comment sections. There are some, like the New York Times, that still have comment sections, but I would not be surprised if one day we see this part of interactivity disappear from individual online stories as more news outlets get rid of their comment sections because of abusive posts.

Tompkins illustrates many other ways to engage online audiences in this chapter. Too many for me to go into in this blog post.


Today’s journalists interact with their audiences on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites. Tompkins goes into the ethics that journalists must observe always even when they think that the site is personal or private. There really is no private opinion once published on the internet.

I found this very interesting. So often I come across Twitter pages from journalists who put in their bio the words, “personal opinions are my own” as if this shields their employer from any statement that they make. But journalists have been fired over controversial tweets.


Although, Tompkins covers SEO and Analytics in this chapter, these are not topics that are unfamiliar to me. I’ve written for blogs and set up websites before and had to learn these things to drive traffic to my website or to stories I’ve written on other websites.

What I found most compelling was what Tompkins wrote about reaching out to journalists who write stories that I find remarkable online. It never dawned on me to do this.  The next time I see a story online, especially one that uses interactive elements superbly, I am going to contact the reporter as Tompkins suggests and ask them “what they didn’t do but wish they had done.” Or how they got the story.

I think their answers could be enlightening and a great learning experience.

With all the gems of wisdom in this one chapter. I can’t wait to read the rest of this book.