A big part of writing for the web is knowing how to report news, and the reason for this is that it never runs out.
Imagine switching on the evening news or picking up the paper only to find that journalists and reporters had found nothing to tell us. News is always happening and, if you run a website or provide written content for one, it offers an endless stream of fresh material with which to update it.
However, while news may be easy to find, not everyone finds it easy to master the structure and style required to report it. At the crux of this are what are known as the ‘five Ws’.
What are the five Ws?
The five Ws refer to five questions that any well-written news report should answer. They are, very simply:
To understand what is meant by these questions, the best step to take is to look at a news story and apply them to it. Here is one from this morning about a bust of the late author Terry Pratchett being unveiled in Wiltshire ahead of plans to erect a statue.
So, let’s ask the questions of this article and see what we get:
Who? – There are two main individuals mentioned in the piece – the late author Terry Pratchett and the bust creator Paul Kidby. In both cases, it’s explained clearly who they are and what their relevance to the story is.
We must always explain who somebody is if we report on them. You might well know who Terry Pratchett was, but there will be people who don’t and a good news story should not leave people opening a second tab to check who anybody actually is on their Wikipedia page.
What? – This is fairly straightforward – the ‘what’ in this case is a bust of Terry Pratchett leading to a future 7ft statue. In other cases, it may be something more subtle than this, such as an upcoming event.
Where? – The piece explains that the statue will be in one of two possible locations in Salisbury, Wiltshire.
When? – This isn’t entirely clear as yet, but the piece acknowledges the question by noting that planning permission has not been obtained yet.
Why? – It’s clearly explained that the move follows an online campaign for a tribute to the author in what was his home city, and that the council backs the plans.
As we can see, this piece satisfies all the five Ws. Be aware, though, that what we don’t want to do is answer all of them in the first paragraph. You may see a novice writer putting together an opening like:
“A bust of late author Terry Pratchett, created by illustrator Paul Kidby, has been unveiled ahead of plans to erect a statue in either Elizabeth Gardens or the marketplace in Pratchett’s home town of Salisbury, Wiltshire, in response to an online campaign for the city to pay tribute to him, although planning permission has not yet been obtained.”
Aside from being a bit of a mouthful and a clumsily long opening paragraph, you could also question why we need to read any further when the five Ws have all been answered in one awkwardly constructed paragraph. A good piece should keep us reading right until the end.
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