The essential questions that news articles need to answer are who, what, where, when, and why. Here, we’ll delve into the 5 ws of journalism.
Whether you’re writing your first newspaper article or a blog about news stories in your area, it’s key that you know how to provide factual answers that tell readers what they want to know.
The five Ws of journalism: who, what, where, when, and why, are key reporter questions that begin the process of piecing your story together, one fact at a time. While these seem like basic questions, it can take some time for it to become second nature to work the answers into the first sentence of your lead paragraph.
So here, we’ll explore what you need to know about the five Ws, check out some examples from news sources, and go over some tips and tricks that are hallmarks of good journalism.
What are the Five Ws in Journalism?
The five Ws of journalism create the fundamental questions of news reporting: who, what, where, when, and why. In some circles, editors prefer that reporters cover the five Ws and one H: who, what, where, when, why, and how. But, for simplicity’s sake, we’ll focus on the original version of key news questions here.
You’ll want to do your best to include the answers to the 5 Ws as close to the start of your article or press release. You’re likely familiar with the journalism term “don’t bury the lede,” which means that you want to give your target audience the basic information they need to know as soon as possible. From there, you’ll be able to elaborate on your story, providing the details that will help them understand how the basic tenets of the story fit together.
When discussing the “who” portion of your story, give as much detail as possible, don’t worry if this sounds wordy–you’ll be able to shorten it to the person’s last name later in the article. For example, suppose you’re discussing an incident that involved a doctor named Sam Brown. In that case, you might introduce them in the lede sentence of your article as “Dr. Samuel Brown, Chief Pediatric Resident at Sloan-Kettering Memorial Hospital,” and from then on, refer to the person simply as “Brown” or “Dr. Brown.”
When you provide more detail surrounding the subject of your article in the first sentence, you’re giving your reader the information they need to decide if they’d like to keep reading. However, a description can also work if you don’t have additional information about the person you’re writing the article about. For example, a victim of a crime may be referred to as a “middle-aged Bloomsburg man” if you don’t know the person’s actual name.
This part can be a little bit tricky. You don’t want your lede sentence to go on forever, but you also want to give enough information that the reader has a good idea of what’s to come in your article. You’ll want to ensure you convey the article’s main topic without giving away so much of the information that your reader loses interest. Keep the “what” portion of your lede brief. If you can, include an interesting fact or concept that will appear later in the article to draw your reader in and keep them wanting more before you give the whole story.
This one is simple–you’re telling your reader where the story took place. You can be super specific here. For example, rather than saying that the story took place at a store, you could say, “the video game section of the Target located at 5500 Maury Road in Selinsgrove.” This can be especially helpful if you’re working to appeal to a local target audience who will be familiar with the ins and outs of their town.
Telling your reader when the story took place will help them understand whether the incident you’re describing is current breaking news or a reflection on past events. It may suffice to say the date if you’re discussing an all-day event (like a fair or festival). If you’re talking about a short event (such as a store robbery), you’ll want to include the time, if possible. If you’re unsure of the information on when a criminal event took place, reach out to your local police department. The head of police investigations may give you information that helps you fill out the 5 Ws of your story (and you may get some good quotes from the officer as well).
For many writers and journalists, the “why” part of the 5 Ws is the toughest to include in the lede. You’ll want to give your readers the why behind the story without giving away the entity of your article, which can take some practice. So instead, give a super-short version of the why–for example, “Fifth-grade student Loretta Watkins is spending every Saturday working with senior pups at the Williamsport SPCA so she can show older dogs that they deserve love, too.” In this example, the reader knows that the volunteer cares about animals, and this lede provides the space to delve further into the “why” of the story as it continues.
Here, we’ll look at examples of well-written ledes that flawlessly cover the 5 Ws of reporting.
- A 15-minute operation involving a forklift, 20 firefighters, seven police officers, and one scared pig ended a two-hour traffic delay on Interstate 94 Sunday morning.
- A 16-year-old was arrested on Tuesday evening in the robbery and beating death of an 88-year-old veteran from Spokane, Wash., who survived being wounded in World War II.
- On Saturday, in their first competition of the year, the mock trial team took first place at the seventh annual San Joaquin County Mock Trial competition.
In each of the above examples, the authors work to flawlessly incorporate all of the information that the reader needs to know without providing so much context that they’re no longer interested in reading the rest of the article.
Getting the who, what, where, when, and why correct in your lede is key to drawing your reader in, and you must check your information before your work is published online or goes to print. Take the time to fact-check your work, and try to find at least two sources to verify each W of journalism before you finish your final draft.
Tips and Tricks
- Less is more when it comes to your lede. Give basic info that you can elaborate on later in your story.
- Don’t bury the lede. It would help if you shared the answers to the 5 Ws within the first sentence of the first paragraph of your article.
- Keep it catchy. Word your lede so that it’s simple yet enticing.
- Stuck on how to get your lede started? First, write the rest of your article and then work on the first sentence. Many writers find it easier to give basic details after the rest of the story has been fleshed out.
Looking for more? Check out our article on “Is Journalism A Good Career?”