Al Tompkins


Consulting clients: ABC Owned and Operated Stations, Telemundo Television Stations; Meredith Television Stations; Scripps Howard Television, NBC owned and operation stations Promotions Directors; Stations; Hearst Argyle Television Stations; Gannett Television Stations; Griffin Communications; NBC Owned and Operated Stations; New York Times Television Stations; Cox Television; Cox Cable, Cox Washington DC Bureau, RUV TV (Iceland), Belo Television Stations; Freedom Newspapers of Florida, Freedom Newspapers of North Carolina, The Raleigh News & Observer, Shurz Broadcast stations, Radio and Television News Directors Association; RTNDA Canada; Radio and Television News Directors Foundation; The Ford Foundation; Hampton University, Kings University, Belmont University, Western Kentucky University, Middle Tennessee State University Alabama Broadcasters Association; Arkansas Broadcasters Association; Oklahoma Broadcasters Association; Hawaii Association of Broadcasters; Texas Association of Broadcasters; Ohio AP Broadcasters Association; Pennsylvania Broadcasters Association; Illinois Broadcasters Association; Washington State Broadcasters Association; Georgia Broadcasters Association; Tennessee Broadcasters Association; Louisiana Broadcasters Association; New York State Broadcasters Association; West Virginia Broadcasters Association; Missouri Broadcasters Association; Virginia Broadcasters Association; North Carolina Broadcasters Association; South Carolina Association of Broadcasters; Wisconsin Broadcasters Association; Iowa Broadcasters Association;Oregon Broadcasters, North Carolina Press Association, Alaska Broadcasters Association, New Mexico Broadcasters AssociationNational Academy of Television Arts and Sciences -- NATAS (Pennsylvania); NATAS (Washington DC); NATAS (Miami); WMC-TV; WSB-TV; KXAS-TV; KHOU-TV; WNEM-TV; KPHO-TV; WEWS-TV; WPTV-TV; WESH-TV; WKMG-TV; WTVW-TV; WPBF-TV; WHO-TV; KWTV-TV; WZZM-TV; WNEP-TV; WTKR-TV; KTHV-TV; KCTV-TV; WGAL; WTVF; WSBT See discussion of Poynter consulting in Poynter Ethics FAQ.


Here’s why NBC didn’t fire Brian Williams

NBC President Deborah Turness announced Tuesday she is suspending Brian Williams for six months with no pay.

That could be a multi-million dollar penalty: In December, Williams signed a new five-year deal which Variety reported could be worth up to $10 million per year.

But why not fire him, as the pitchfork-bearing critics have demanded?

A suspension gives the network time to assess the damage Williams has done to his credibility. It also gives the network time to see if possible successors, like Lester Holt, can attract enough viewers to keep NBC from slipping out of first place in the evening news race. If not, NBC can rotate in other temporary replacements until they find a good fit.

Then, in mid-August, when TV news viewership is at its lowest, Williams could come back to work. Read more


Photos show Brian Williams’ New Orleans hotel was surrounded by water

This story will not prove that Brian Williams saw a body floating in the New Orleans’ floodwaters after Hurricane Katrina, but found and confirmed photographs that show the NBC Anchormans’ recollection is not as out of the question as some have claimed.

Williams is on a self-imposed time out from anchoring while his network looks into exaggerations about how close to danger he was while reporting in Iraq.

After Williams apologized for “misremembering” what happened in Iraq in March 2003, journalists began turning over stones to see if they could find other examples of exaggeration.

Over the weekend, the website GotNews flagged an interview in which Williams said, “When you look out your hotel window in the French Quarter and watch a man float by face down…” and round two of Williams’ nightmare began. Read more


Brian Williams and the culture of ‘I, we and us’

If he had stuck to telling stories about others and not himself, NBC anchorman Brian Williams would not be in the mess he is in this week.

Pay attention to the words highlighted in bold.

On March 26, 2003 when Tom Brokaw introduced Williams’ report on Dateline saying, “Our colleague Brian Williams is back in Kuwait City tonight after a close call over the skies in Iraq. Brian tell us what you got yourself into.” Williams reported, “In the end, Tom, it did give us a glimpse of the war as few have seen it. We asked the U.S. Army to take us on an air mission with them and they accepted. We knew there was risk involved, we knew we would be flying over Iraq, we discussed it, we weren’t cavalier about it. Read more


Brian Williams’ 2007 interview: ‘I looked down the tube of an RPG’

Another video has surfaced of NBC anchorman Brian Williams claiming he was fortunate to survive enemy attacks, this time in two different wars.

In 2007, Williams was interviewed by a student at Fairfield University. He said:

At a reception a few minutes ago, I was remembering something I tend to forget, the war with Hezbollah in Israel, a few years back, where there were Katyushka rockets passing just beneath the helicopter I was riding in. A few years before that, you go back to Iraq, and I looked down the tube of an RPG that had been fired at us and it hit the chopper in front of ours.

This version of the incident is a less humble telling of his 2003 Dateline NBC story about being in an Army helicopter formation in Iraq that came under fire. Read more

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Brian Williams

Pilot of Brian Williams’ helicopter in Iraq: ‘We took small arms fire’

Update: The pilot interviewed by CNN and quoted in this article is no longer standing by his story. In a text message to CNN’s Brian Stelter Friday morning, the pilot said the following:

“The information I gave you was true based on my memories, but at this point I am questioning my memories that I may have forgotten or left something out.”

Brian Williams gained some support Thursday from the pilot of the Chinook helicopter that Williams was aboard during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

CNN, landed an exclusive interview with retired Chief Warrant Officer 4, U.S. Army Rich Krell, who told CNN he was piloting Williams’ chopper.

Krell provided key details that may explain inconsistencies in what Williams reported and what soldiers said actually happened. Read more


Veterans force NBC’s Brian Williams to apologize

NBC News anchor Brian Williams said on the evening broadcast Wednesday that he made a mistake when he said on air last week that he had been in a military helicopter that was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in the early days of the American invasion of Iraq 12 years ago.

On Friday, Williams had told a story on air about a veteran he met in Iraq. They stayed in touch over the years and Williams invited the soldier to a hockey game. At the game, they were surprised that the game announcer told the crowd about the chance encounter after Williams’ chopper was shot down.

Williams said on the air:

“The story actually started with a terrible moment a dozen years back during the invasion of Iraq when the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an RPG. Read more


What journalists need to know about the FCC chairman’s net neutrality recommendation landed one heck of a guest opinion today, and journalists need to understand what the opinion means.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote that “the time to settle the Net Neutrality question has arrived.” He went on to outline what he will recommend to his fellow commissioners when they meet later this month.

Wheeler’s main points:

  • The commission has to step in and stop broadband network operators (mostly cable companies) from allowing big data users to have a fast-lane to deliver their data.
  • The FCC should consider the Internet as a utility and, as Wheeler writes, “use its Title II authority to implement and enforce open internet protections.”
  • The rules that apply to wired networks’ data delivery should apply to mobile too. No blocking or prioritizing data delivery there either.
Read more
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How a listener’s complaint improved NPR’s reporting

Dan Charles, NPR Agriculture Reporter

Dan Charles, NPR Agriculture Reporter

National Public Radio’s Dan Charles taught journalists two lessons Monday morning. One lesson is that simple solutions to complex problems usually don’t work. The other lesson is when your public takes the time to contact you about your reporting, and you take the comments seriously, you may just find an even better story.

Charles is NPR’s agriculture reporter and on Jan. 12, he reported a story about the problem of nitrates that run off of farm fields into Iowa’s waterways.

Charles is a careful reporter, he has studied science, technology and international affairs. He has written about fertilizer use in China and has a degree in business in international affairs.

In his story he reported;

“Farmers spread nitrogen fertilizer on their corn fields, it turns into nitrate and then it commonly runs into streams through networks of underground tile pipes that drain the soil.”

Sarah Carlson,  Practical Farmers of Iowa

Sarah Carlson, Practical Farmers of Iowa

But a listener, Sarah Carlson, heard Charles’ story on the radio as she was driving to work and, she said, she hoped her beloved NPR would not fall into the same old storyline that is so often accepted not just as fact, but truth. Read more

With a road sign warning of an expected blizzard, morning commuters travel across the Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge into downtown Boston., Monday, Jan. 26, 2015.   The Boston area is expected to get hit with about two feet of snow in the winter storm. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Here are 20 story ideas for covering the blizzard

Anybody who needs these ideas will be really busy for the next several days, so I am going to write sparsely to avoid taking up their time.

-Craigslist helps you find “Blizzard Boyfriends or Girlfriends?” You know this just seems like a bad idea, but it seems that people are going to CL to find winter warmth. Be careful clicking on the photos, some are NSFW. Who knows if this is a bunch of noise, a cover for escort services or if it really results in snowbound hookups? Color me skeptical, but it is getting some press.

-Is it REALLY true that you can expect a baby boom nine months after a blizzard? The answer is no. It seems so plausible, but the numbers just don’t bear it out. Read more

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Resources for digging deeper and asking better questions on Ebola

Tuesday, President Obama mentioned Ebola in his State of the Union address saying, “the world needs to use this lesson to build a more effective global effort to prevent the spread of future pandemics.” The next morning, I led a Poynter/Association of Healthcare Journalists seminar to help journalists learn lessons from the Ebola response that we can use when the next epidemic/pandemic emerges. And there will be others.

Over the course of our two days together, we pulled together a list of reliable websites and resources that will help journalists dig deeper, ask better questions and report cautiously but precisely. Here are some of the sites we explored:

ClinicalTrials: This site tracks trials completed, in process and recruiting.

PubMed: There are 24 million citations for biomedical literature here. Read more

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