Skip to comments.Who, What, Where, When and Why – The 5W's of Journalism
Posted on 05/17/2012 4:18:41 PM PDT by Norm Lenhart
Who, What, Where, When and Why The 5W's of Journalism
By Norm Lenhart Special to Free Republic
If there is one thing that I as a former reporter/editor can say to the reader side of the media street, it's this. NEVER trust an article that does not contain the 5Ws of Journalism. For those not in the know, they are right up there in the headline: Who, What, When, Where and Why.
If I could say another, it is to barrage the publisher of any article with email/letters and public scorn until their reportage conforms to all five of these crucially important pieces of information. Having been on that side of the desk, I promise you that as long as you the reader/consumer continues to read/consume the drivel passing itself off as 'news and information' without a peep of dissent, expect to get an increasing dosage of said drivel. Even if you do, you'll probably be fed purest propaganda anyway, but it never hurts to make your position as an 'informed' consumer known.
Now, allow me to provide those not of the journalistic persuasion with the 5Ws.
Who : This is the person/place thing; the subject of the article. Without it, you have no article obviously, but be wary for 'unnamed sources. That's often a reporter injecting his opinion. It can also be his fellow reporter feeding him what he wants to hear so he can write those words and be technically truthful.
What : This is what Who did, is doing, or will do. Also the subject of the article. Pretty obvious in purpose.
Where : Locations, cities, buildings and other physical locations. Again, standard stuff. If Babe Ruth hit a monster home run way back when, it kinda helps add to the interest to know what stadium he did it in.
Now, here's where things get 'fuzzy' from the MSM reporting standpoint...
When : Plenty of room to wiggle here and this can change the entire context of a story. When makes all the difference in everything from legal issues to meeting times. When is an integral part of any story and can utterly make or break (read that 'cloud) the context.
And most important of all we have...
Why : Did President Obama do X? Does the article tell you why? Did Nancy Pelosi emit another nonsensical Open it to know what's in it comment? Did the reporter ask her why? Did anyone in the DC Press Corpse (spelling is correct) ever ask Bill Clinton WHY he couldn't get a hotel room with Monica and WHY he felt the highest office in the land was an appropriate place to have sexual relations with that woman? It is the lack of such questions that results in all the 'misspeaking'. It allows the media circus to perform endless 3-ring acts without ever coming to a decisive answer. And it allows politicians to occlude the issue, kicking the can doe the road of 'evolution'.
These are the basic. These are a 100% crucial part of any piece of information qualified to be called news. If the articles you consume do not contain answers to those questions, then it is the duty of you, the reader to ask those 5 questions of the reporter and the media outlet feeding you an incomplete story.
And this applies to Chris Matthews or Rush Limbaugh. MSNBC or Brietbart. Glenn Beck or Sheppard Smith.
Without these five basics of Journalism, you should trust nothing you read.
I was an editor once too. From firsthand experience, I know that even the "five basics" can be manipulated in a variety of ways.
I trust NOTHING I read.
But the thing is, and correct me if I’m mistaken, the networks didn’t ask him that that I remember. And definitely not in the heat of it. That came later if I remember right, when no longer of consequence.
Thanks for the good words ;)
Yup. If a reporter tells you water is wet, stick your head in the rain to be sure.
When I took what little journalism I’ve had, the 5th W has “how”. “Why” was supposed to be left to the opinion page.
If you have an article on a murderer, don’t you want to know why he did it? What his motives if any were? If a reader is reading an article on a bond issue for a community swimming pool, do you think he’s interested in why the pool is needed in the community?
I fully agree. ‘Why’ is always subjective, and if you don’t know the other party’s stake in the game, dangerous.
Why are we attacking XXXX?
Why is Obamacare good/bad for America?
And any of a billion other questions critical to the understanding of an issue - AKA the reason behind it.
Why did Beck leave Fox?
Why did the Hockey Stick graph influence global warming legislation...
Thanks! I’ve heard of these, but I like your expansion on the concepts!
I recall when cities had multiple newspapers representing liberals and conservatives. Then TV networks became dominant.
Newspapers started to disappear, liberals dominated TV network news, and liberals used the "Fairness Doctrine" to hinder the emerging modern conservative movement.
It was maddening but today we have modern talk radio and the Internet.
If liberals are honest about their bias I do not care if they only have one "W", waive (spiking).
However, if liberals succeed in limiting our free speech making yet another silenced generation then we have every duty and obligation to defend our free speech with blood. Our free speech, their blood.
Thank you for the ping Normie :)
Now I know where your colorful posts come from ;9 I can’t even type a paragraph to express my opinions without it coming unbolted :p
About the subject... more and more is slipping through the cracks... I am just waiting for the waterfall to drown us all.
Your forgot the 6th “W”- WHORE.
As a point of clarification, the Subject/question of “Why” does not mean for a reporter to insert his opinion, although the AP has indeed authorized opinion in news articles. This caused no end of disgust for one of my co-workers when the memo was circulated.
The question of “Why” in the traditional sense may not be answered in the article. It may be impossible to do such. But the question needs to be asked. As in my examples, “Why should people vote to authorize bonds for a community pool?”
Such questions then put the Mayor/board on the spot. It is their job to answer the questions the public has. RE: Obama - Had reporters done their jobs and asked why he sat in a BLTheology church for 20 years absorbing anti-American propaganda, we may have had a different electoral outcome.
People act in ways for reasons. When they are public servants or acting in ways that steer the outcome of public policy, the question of “Why” is the most important question that can be asked.
Without “Why”, you get the modern media, simply parroting the party line. Without “Why” you have an incomplete picture. And if the question if “Why” is refused, or not presently answerable, it is the job of the reporter to dig deeper and find those answers, whether the subject the question is directed to wishes that answer known, or not.
I get so upset at what passes for local TV news journalism that I have had to just quit watching local TV news.
Some of the funniest threads here at FR ever? Web based local TV news stories. They are so astoundingly lame; it is hilarious. These junior college morons who barely graduated seem to flock to local TV news. They must have been hung over the day the 5 W’s were covered. And since they are too stupid to get a network job they have to rely on good looks and coifed hair to get them through life. Grrr.
There are two books that are supposed to be the core of journalism. Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style” and the Associated Press Style Guide. The third is the AP’s libel manual, but the first two are pretty much the beginning and end of what modern journalism is ‘supposed’ to be. There is of course plenty more to consider, but those two are the crash course.
Neither is light reading, however I recommend both to anyone wishing to learn more about journalism as a whole and especially to provide a basis for just how far the real ‘modern journalism’ has gotten from the ‘ideal’.
You will quickly discover that neither of these books’ guidelines get used a whole lot anymore. From local papers to network news, RARELY will you find an article that conforms to either. Editors get on high horses and sing their virtues, but the proof is in the pudding. The articles do not conform.
Think of them as the Republican platform to the Republican party. Window dressing.
Thanks for the ping, Norm. I can’t agree more about the fallen state of journalism — or should I say, state-sponsored propaganda?
I believe that’s one of the chief reasons that the media has lost so much ground with the American public, and why online news sources, blogs, and forums like this one, have grown in readership and influence. People are just sick of having a bunch of lies, misinformation, and downright stupidity crammed down their necks.
Real journalism these days, is like a cool stream of water in the desert. You can’t keep people away from it.
Reporters don't want to put democrats in a tough spot - I'm surprised Clinton was asked that - and I can see why it's memorable. Good for that reporter.
Thanks, Norm. That’s how I learned it too.
I liked what you said about unnamed sources. Articles with those are not worthy of print, and editors should know better. Entirely too much of that today.
We have given the press a trust which they have not deserved nor maintained. When the history of our time is written, it will be a puzzlement to future Americans how we were so ill-served by a media we put so much trust in.
The biggest problem with the unnamed source is that in reality, my source on a story covering Obama may be Joe Biden (hypothetical of course), but the reader does not know that. Nor do I have any way to do so without naming him and providing a recording with witnesses. That source may be 100% truthful and accurate, but the reader just does not “know”.
That said, there are indeed instances where use of them is the difference between an article or none at all. This then starts down the fuzzy path. Would I personally use one? Only if I could provide corroborating evidence from documentation or another named source backing the unnamed one. Did I ever? Not in my newspaper career. I never reported on something so important to warrant using one. I did when doing motorsports coverage at another job, however that is entertainment, not news.
The unnamed source IMO leaves, nay, invites the kind of tactics used by the Dem party and libs. Any counter can be brought to bear and there’s almost no way to disprove that Counter. Best practice IMO? Hold the story until you can prove/verify it or if it’s a Watergate level of import, clearly tell your readers that XX is a RUMOR at this time that you are working to verify. But label it truthfully.
Today, the unnamed source is little more than a literary device. Or an out so that no one can be held to account dor anything. And most people free from blowback will SAY ANYTHING to feed their ego. They may be the ‘unnamed’ source, but they will have ‘friends in the media’ to tell their buddies about and broker their own power that way.
Norm. Don Morgan here. From LP, SL, and TL. Email me hello. mizterboston at that g mail place
Nope LOL. An old friend of Norms. Hard to track him down.