Wikinews:Who What When Why Where and How
|I keep six honest serving-men:
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Where and When
And How and Why and Who.
—The Elephant's Child - 1902,
The 5 W and H, as immortalised in Kipling's quote, are one of the cornerstones of journalism. A good news article strives to succinctly answer as many of these as possible in the lede, leaving the rest of the article for additional details and context.
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The basic questions may apply differently to different stories. Treat them as flexible reminders of the kinds of information important to include. For example, "who" may refer to whomever is important in the story. "Why" may include motives of actors, and causes of events, when those are significant information, and may also encompass "why the story is important" since newsworthiness must be clear from the lede.
Some notes about each basic question:
- What: Clearly say what happened without euphemism, melodrama, or indirection. If someone was shot and then died from their injuries, say "died" not "passed away".
- Where: Some stories happen to a specific location. Perhaps a natural disaster affects a region; or a flood affects certain parts of a city. Other stories aren't so much about a specific location, but still happen at a location. A group of scientists at a certain university discover a new genetic cause for a disease; then where begins to blend with who. If the discovering scientists are at universities distributed all over the world, that too is significant and should be mentioned.
- When: This is crucial, because freshness is of the essence of news, and it's also easy to answer if you know as much as you should and the news focus is as specific as it should be. A good rule of thumb: if a "day" word — either today, yesterday, or the name of a weekday — doesn't appear in the lede, the article probably isn't suitable for publication.
- How: If a process is unlikely to be clear to a reader, specify it. Most people are not familiar with the details of political or legal procedures (say, the rules used in Parliament or in a court of law) or the rules of different sports. Make sure that someone who isn't familiar could read the story and understand it.
- Why: Causation is often something we cannot assert without violating neutrality, but when relevant we can and should provide context and attribute claims of motivation.
- Who: Most background about people is too detailed to belong in the lede, unless it's really crucial to the story. Later in the article, though, it may be important to dig into people's backgrounds, to provide context for the reader; this background often blends into why.