August 14, 2002

1. Tell the story in three words or OTPS, one theme per story, one thought per sentence. Select, don’t compress, what goes in your stories. The stuff that does not make it into the story will make great tags, follow ups, or additional material for Internet sites.

2. Tell complex stories through strong characters. Readers and viewers will remember what they feel longer than what they know. Characters help me understand how the complex facts you uncovered affect people.

3. Objective copy, subjective sound. Let the characters evoke emotions, express feelings, and give opinions in their soundbites. The journalists’ copy should contain objective words, facts, and truths.

4. Use active verbs, not passive ones. Consider the difference between “the gun was found” and “the boy found the gun.” Ask “Who did what?” and you will write stronger and more informed stories.

5. No subjective adjectives. Your lawyer and your viewers will thank you. No more “fantastic-unbelievable-gut wrenching” or “mother’s worst nightmare.”

6. Give viewers a sense for the passage of time in your story. Make me feel you have spent some time by showing me the character in more than one setting, in more than one situation.

7. Remember, leads tell me “so what,” stories tell me “what” and tags tell me “what’s next.”

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

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