Aim for the Heart by Al Tompkins’: a Review

aim for the heart“You’ll remember what you feel longer than what you know,” Poynter Institute’s Al Tompkins likes to tell his students.  That’s the central theme of Tompkins’ book, Aim for the Heart: content is king.  If you make readers or viewers or listeners feel something, they’ll remember your work.  But there are some rules of the road.  And though the central theme in Tompkins’ teachings has not changed since the book was initially published in 2002, some of those rules have.  The 2nd edition of Aim for the Heart covers ground that has elapsed in the rapidly changing world of news media; namely, it confronts the growing necessity to think about journalism with the internet in mind.

Tompkins’ book was originally published in 2002.  It read like a how-to for journalists shooting broadcast video stories, and was well-respected in the field for its insights on creating ethical, yet moving multimedia stories.  Much of the book still addresses these subjects, and it likely does a better job than most, judging by the fact that over 75 universities adopted it as their broadcast journalism textbook.  Tompkins, after all, has years of broadcast experience under his belt.

But Tompkins has added a good deal of material to the 2nd edition that makes the book more relevant to a growing online news audience than ever.  He manages to weave the lessons taught in the first edition of Aim for the Heart into a framework suited for today’s digital journalism without sacrificing any relevance.  Indeed, the principles of good video production still apply; the difference now is in the way that multimedia journalists must think about a story.

Tompkins lays out some basic guidelines in the new version.  Firstly, it is an error, he says, to think that “online news should be the same as what we put on TV but shorter,” or that “online news should be just like what we put on TV only longer.” Tompkins argues that online news is different from TV or print journalism, but that it can also make stories better, and he champions the potential of the internet to make stories more personal, local, and interactive.

Tompkins offers a chart in the updated version of Aim for the Heart which delineates the types of thinking traditionally associated with broadcast journalism and juxtaposes those lines of thinking with what he calls “online thinking.” Tompkins’ take seems to make broadcast thinking look pretty outdated.   For instance, where institutions involved in “broadcast thinking” seek a mass audience, thinking in the online world, according to Tompkins, uses multiple channels that reach smaller audiences.  And where broadcast journalism is published on its own time frame, the online world publishes non-stop, as events unfold.  Perhaps the most telling difference, though, is that online news does not just “inform” an audience; it “involves and engages” it.

Interactivity is central to Tompkins’ assessment of the difference between online and broadcast media.  “If I could whisper one magic word of advice to every broadcast journalist about the future of the Internet, it would be “interaction,” Tompkins says in Chapter 13.  He encourages journalists to “leverage their digital assets,” and “find ways to meaningfully involve the public.”  What’s more, he teaches them how to do it.

Aim for the Heart is an indispensable resource for any aspiring journalist looking to gain ground and become fluent in “new media,” and it is as easy to follow as it is practical to apply.

Check it out.

Tompkins also keeps a blog showcasing some of the best multimedia work on the internet and expanding on his ideas and teachings.  You can find it at:


3 comments on “Aim for the Heart by Al Tompkins’: a Review

  1. Kristen
    August 7, 2013

    Hi! Just wanted to let you know that I linked to you in my entry. Thanks!

    • Gary Villeneuve
      August 7, 2013

      Thanks, Kristen. I linked to you as well. You can read that in the section called “colleagues.” I just decided to make a page for it, since this blog is really a grad school portfolio anyway.

  2. Pingback: 100 books every journalist must read - John Kroll Digital

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This entry was posted on July 22, 2013 by .
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