CNN, CBC, MSNBC and…IWU. These are the places Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies visited in November, and he had just as much fun sitting around the table critiquing an IWU student newscast or The Sojourn as he did at those other, high-powered media outlets.
Tompkins, Poynter’s Senior Faculty for Broadcast and Online, came to IWU for two days of storytelling workshops with Communication & Theatre students. His visit included review sessions with student journalists, discussions with faculty and administrators, and a special address for all students at IWU chapel services.
Tompkins has spent nearly 40 years in broadcast news, beginning as a television reporter while a student at Western Kentucky University. Much of his career was at WSMV-TV in Nashville, Tennessee as reporter, producer and news director. He joined Poynter in the late 90’s and travels worldwide conducting workshops and training seminars.
“I saw an eagerness at IWU that energizes me,” Tompkins said in an email to ComWire. “The students want to tell stronger stories that matter and the faculty talked non-stop for two days about how they could do more to help their students. The passion among the faculty I spent time with was deep, genuine and infectious.”
Students returned that energy and enthusiasm, some after sitting through every session and personal conversations. Kristen Stipkovich (Media Communication, ’14) heard specific pointers about a story she completed for the weekly TV newscast.
“I will apply this to my career in always seeking advice on a story idea or even helping someone else expand an ordinary story into something that someone will actually care about,” Stipkovich said. “As for now, I am going to be learning as much as I can about law, ethics, and all of the other things Al talked about in his workshop.”
Jeremy Sharp (Journalism, ’14), Sojourn Editor-in-Chief and TV News class member, processed all the advice and also appreciated the personal access.
“What I’ll remember most is how Al Tompkins stayed long after his final session was over to talk with us more and even take some selfies (photos). But then he even started helping us clean up. It was incredible to see him humble himself like that and it really showed off his true character,” Sharp said.
In chapel, Tompkins spoke to approximately 2000 students on the parable of the Good Samaritan. In “The Power of a Story” he showed television news stories of ordinary people who did extraordinary things by doing simple tasks to serve others.
For Tompkins, long-time Methodist and husband to Pastor Sidney Tompkins of St. Petersburg, Florida, it was a unique opportunity to merge his faith with a passion for storytelling.
“You only have two hands,” Tompkins told the student audience. “What are you going to do with them to serve others?…Don’t hold your hands up to God unless you mean it because God has a sense of humor and he’ll have you doing crazy things,” he said.
Tompkins left IWU’s Communication faculty with some ideas for continuing a quality media and convergent journalism program with a distinctive Christian focus.
“For students who are comfortable with infusing their journalistic mission with their Christian life, IWU provides fertile ground while being careful to understand that journalism and evangelism are different,” Tompkins said.
Watch workshop #1 – “9 Things Every Student Needs to Know”
Watch workshop #2 – “Aim for the Heart”