Alan Tomlinson, RIP

Posted November 28, 2016
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In 1993, I was just starting a company called Video News International.  

It was to be a worldwide VJ-driven news business.  

The whole notion of a video journalist was pretty much unknown. I had simply made up the whole concept. But now, I was going to try and put together a team 100 of the world's best potential VJs.

I mostly went after photo journalists. My core investor was Nick Nicholas, who was then the Chairman and CEO of Time/Life Magazines.  He introduced me to the Life Magazine photographers, who I would train to make video.  

One of the best and very first in the group was a great photojournalist named Bill Gentile.  

Gentile suggested that I get in touch with a radio reporter he had met in Central Ameirca named Alan Tomlinson.  I told him that I was not sure if a radio guy would have the eye I was looking for for video, but Gentile insisted that we give him a shot - so we did.

Alan was British, but lived in Miami and had spent years working the Latin American beat. He was a real journalist's journalist and he took to the VJ thing immediately.  You have to give him credit. It was a total shot in the dark. We had no idea if it would work at all.

Our first opportunity came in 1994 when The Learning Channel commissioned a documentary from us. These were the days when places like TLC still did serious journalism - before they discovered Reatlity TV.  

John Ford, who ran TLC, had just read a piece in The New Yorker entitled The Hot Zone, about Ebola, and as it happened, there was a major Ebola outbreak in Zaire.  Ford called. Could we do a documentary hour on Ebola for TLC?  

We could.

It was called Killer Virus.

But we needed someone to go to Zaire, to go into the Hot Zone with a video camera and get the story.

Alan volunteered.

This was dangerous work. No one really knew much about Ebola except that it was highly contageous, that there was no safety in Zaire, that the medical facilities there were pretty much non-existant and that people were dying as the disease turned their organs to liquid.

But it was a great story. 

And Alan went.

He spent several weeks in Zaire (and these were the days before cell phones, so from our perspective, (and his families), he just vanished from the face of the eath.

But he came back with fantastic, original footage. No one else, no other news organization, had had the courage to go in there and certainly not spend the time necessary to get the story.

He did.

Later that year, Killer Virus and The Learning Channel were nominated for the national Emmy for News and Documentaries.

The other nominees were ABC News, NBC News and CBS News.. and The Learning Channel.

And the winner was... The Learning Channel.

It was their first Emmy.  And ours.

Alan earned it.  He was an amazing journalist, no matter what the medium

I was deeply shocked and sadded to read that he had died yesterday, cause unknown. 

My condolences to his entire family from our family here and those who worked with him and knew him so well.  


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