Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

News & Journalism: Basics of journalism

News

The Five Ws: Who, What, When, Where & Why

News writers follow a formula to produce clear news stories quickly to meet daily, weekly and even hourly deadlines. An objective news story will include:

  • Language that avoids loaded terms.

  • Sources presenting pro, con and neutral viewpoints.

  • Opinions attributed to sources or in quotes.

  • The Five Ws; who, what, when, where and why.

A source is a person, entity or organization to whom the quote or information is attributed. In this sentence in a New York Times article, "Ancient rocks have yielded tiny fossil-like formations up to 4.2 billion years old, researchers reported," researchers are the source.

 

The lead, the first paragraph in a news story, usually 25 words or fewer, answers the “Five Ws” that describe an event. In any situation, supplying who, what, when, where and why will give readers a full idea of the event, as these lead paragraphs from large news organizations do.

 

See these examples of leads from major American newspapers:

  • Los Angeles Times: "University of California regents (who and where) will vote (what) this week (when) on the first tuition increase in six years (what) as the nation’s premier public research university system struggles to maintain its quality amid surging enrollment and reduced levels of state support (why)."

 

  • New York Times: "As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada (who) made his first address (what) to the United Nations General Assembly (where) on Tuesday (when), he spoke before not only an enthusiastic audience, but one whose agenda largely mirrored his own (why)."

 

  • Associated Press: "First published in 1949, Orwell's (who) classic dystopian tale of a society in which facts are distorted and suppressed in a cloud of "newspeak" topped the best-seller list (what) of Amazon (where) as of Tuesday evening (when). (Why will be answered in the following paragraphs or perhaps be raised as a question)."

 

Next, Use this PDF worksheet to guide you as you check whether a news lead contains the Five Ws.

Evaluate: Read all sides of a story for a full account

Calvin and Hobbes comic strip

An objective news story on a controversial topic contains sources representing both sides of the controversy, as well as a neutral source, such as a research organization, university scholar or other expert. These are are called pro, con and neutral viewpoints.

 

Words between quotation marks are the opinions of sources. The name and title before or after quotation marks attribute the quote to that person or entity.

 

Neutral: Citizens continue to disagree about the morality and effectiveness of the death penalty (no attribution needed).

 

Pro: "[G]iving up on the death penalty would mean giving up on justice for crime victims and their families," Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association stated in an article on its website (attribution).

 

Con: Thurgood Marshall, JD, late Justice of the US Supreme Court (attribution), wrote that "[Capital punishment] violates the Eighth Amendment because it is morally unacceptable to the people of the United States at this time in their history."

 

The above quotes and their attributions are courtesy of ProCon.org, a nonprofit organization that strives to provide pro, con and neutral viewpoints of current controversies.

News agencies & wire services

 

If you don't find news articles you're looking for in a database, click on the links below to go directly to news agency websites. News agencies, also known as wire services, are news-gathering organizations that provide reporting to newspapers and publications that subscribe to their services. You'll see articles on front pages of major newspapers that credit wire services for their reporting.

Loaded vs. Neutral Terms: Words that Show Bias

Loaded terms are words that make the reader question the credibility of the source. Objective news stories will use terms that may seem boring or colorless - neutral terms - to avoid showing a source or information in a biased light. For example, using the term “claimed”, considered a loaded word, instead of “said”, a neutral word, throws doubt on the source’s credibility. Which sentence do you feel evokes more trust in the speaker?

  • "I am not a crook," the president claimed.
  • "I am not a crook," the president said.

Loaded words Neutral words
Alleged Announced
Asserted Said
Avowed Stated
Claimed Told
Declared Related