Additions to the Five Journalistic “W”s – The New Yorker
In journalism, the “Five ‘W’s” are “Who,” “What,” “When,” “Where,” and “Why.” Referring back to the Five “W”s helps journalists address the fundamental questions that every story should be able to answer. Recent events, however, have shown that traditional journalistic practices might not be working as effectively as they used to. As such, here are a few additions to the Five “W”s that will surely come in handy for today’s journalists.
The Two “A”s
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
These days, journalists will often be asked to report on things that sound like sick fucking jokes. As a reporter, you should always confirm that the event you’re covering is not a tasteless prank, misguided attempt at performance art, or some kind of depraved clown show in a demented carnival of vulgarity.
“Am I dreaming?”
When confronted with strange, unsettling events that seem to proceed according to their own unfathomable logic, reporters should also make sure they’re not having some kind of fever dream. What you’re seeing could very well just be a nightmare, but believe it or not, it might also be an actual event that is actually happening in the real world we actually live in—a reality from which there’s no escape.
The One “S”
Journalists should always look the person they’re interviewing in the eye and ask, “Seriously? You’re seriously saying that to me with a straight face?” (This question can be repeated as often as necessary.)
The Three “H”s
“How did this happen?”
This question used to be about making sense of the chain of events leading up to an incident, but now it’s more about how we all need to take a good hard look in the mirror and think about how the choices we’ve made brought us to where we are today.
“Have you no shame?”
The answer to this question is probably going to be “no,” but you’ve gotta check.
True, this isn’t a question, but it’s an important perspective for journalists to keep in mind.
The One “I”
“Is there no respite from the madness?”
This is a pretty basic question, which is relevant whether you’re reporting on global affairs, business, sports, or even just writing restaurant reviews.
The original Five “W”s can also be repurposed to greater effect. For example, instead of asking “What happened?,” a journalist in 2017 might ask “What kind of God would allow this to happen?,” “What the actual fuck?,” or “What’s the point?” Similarly, instead of asking “Where did this event take place?,” you might ask “Where did it all go wrong?” In lieu of “Why did this event take place?,” try “Why do bad things happen to good people?,” “Why do we live in this benighted, fallen world?,” or simply “Why . . . Why . . . Why?” These are the questions that people want answered.
It’s also now safe to discard one of the “W”s: “Who.” As in, “Who is responsible?” The answer to this question is the same in every story—it’s all of us. We all did it. No one’s hands are clean.
So, to recap: we now have Four “W”s, Two “A”s, One “S”, Three “H”s, and One “I.” Keep these in mind, and you can be confident that you’re covering every angle of a story. Sure, compared to the original system it’s vastly more complicated, confusing, and borderline incoherent in a way that seems to perfectly exemplify this bewildering new era in which the truth seems to have little meaning. But that’s just the way we live now. Sorry!