04. The 5 Ws

Always answering the 5 Ws (What? Who? Where? When? Why?) is the cardinal rule of journalism. There can be no compromising when it comes to the first four Ws. The audience needs landmarks : Where did it happen? When? Who's involved? What happened?

The same thing goes in everyday life, when you meet up with a friend and tell him about some event you’ve witnessed: Where? When? Who? What?

Sometimes, you may have to write about something without knowing the answer to the fifth W, the “Why?”. An in-depth analysis of the news should help finding the answer.

Golden rules

Saying as clearly as possible what is going on. “The management team is supposedly in disagreement” is useless information, “Peter and John are fighting over the VP job” is a lot better.

Always identify who is involved. “The school year will start later” is useless information. “The Secretary of Education has decided the school year would start later” is better.

Always say where the action is taking place : in Kinshasa, Brazzaville, N’Djamena, Bangui, Ouagadougou, Bujumbura, Casablanca, Dakar, Oran, Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli… in this neighborhood or that street…

Always say with accuracy when the event took place : this morning, today, yesterday, two days ago, on Jan 10…

Don’t stop looking for the answers until you find them

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you have to find them. News only has value if those four questions have been answered. A good editor-in-chief should discard any news that doesn’t have them answered, and a journalist should never forget about them.

This rule is valid for everything: radio opener for example – What? Where? Who? When? – the Why/How being the angle of the report. It helps you to structure the interview, the voicer, the package…

In French there’s a funny way you can put it to remember it :


Combien Qui Quoi Comment Où Quand Pourquoi.

As you can see, these are everyday questions. We use them instinctively. In journalism, asking yourself those very questions must become just as INSTINCTIVE.