Al Tompkins, a member of the New Century Journalism program’s Advisory Board, kicked off the Spring 2008 NCJ Speakers’ Series Monday morning with a talk titled “If Everybody has YouTube, Why Do We Need Journalism?”A veteran journalist himself and the former news director for local station WSMV-TV Ch. 4, Tompkins now serves as the Group Leader for Broadcasting/Online at The Poynter Institute, an internationally recognized school for journalists, future journalists and teachers of journalists. He is also the author of Aim for the Heart: A Guide for TV Producers and Reporters, which is being used by more than 70 universities as their main broadcast writing textbook.
Tompkins began with an interactive conversation of the value of journalism over blogging and social networking sites, illustrating his points with a number of examples of how investigative journalism has changed the way individuals view world events. Highlighting news photos from Somalia, Vietnam and 9/11, Tompkins focused on how journalists can go where others won’t in order to give voice to the voiceless and hold the powerful accountable. “The primary purpose of journalism I believe is to provide citizens with information so they can be self-governing.”
In addition to news with international impact, Tompkins showed how journalists act as watchdogs on a local level with stories on everything from mechanics charging for work that was never done to a mattress salesman selling used merchandise as new products. Concluding with a recitation of the First Amendment, Tompkins noted, “Journalism is so important that it’s the only constitutionally protected profession. I don’t much care how we deliver it… the act of journalism is at the core of democracy.”
Tompkins has trained more than 9,000 local television news producers, reporters, photojournalists and managers in his One-Day Storytelling Workshops in 37 states. During his two and a half decades as a journalist, he has won The National Emmy, The Peabody Award (group award), the Japan Prize, The American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel for Court Reporting, seven National Headliner Awards, two Iris Awards and the Robert F. Kennedy Award for international reporting.