Thursday, August 19, 2004

The Five W's

Back in medieval times, when I was a college journalism student, I was taught the fundamental elements of building a solid news story. Within the first paragraph, five questions must be answered. There were no exceptions, at least not in my class. A student had to be prepared to accept deep deductions if any of the Big Five were left unaddressed.

Those questions were: Who? What? When? Where? Why? Subsequent paragraphs were devoted to the more flexible question, How? But those five W's were upfront and center. According to my professor, it wasn't news reporting if an article's opening sentences didn't contain the answers.

I'm happy to report that I got an "A" in Journalism. If I were a working journalist today, I might want to start a news article this way: "John Kerry today refused to answer reporters' questions regarding the discrepancies in various accounts of his Vietnam military service. From his vacation retreat in (Idaho, Martha's Vineyard, Washington state, other), Kerry announced through a spokesperson that he had no more to say on the subject because he stood by his previous stories, all of them, regardless of conflicting details."

Okay, I'm a big girl now. I know I wouldn't be a working journalist for long, if I handed that bit of reality to my editor. But tell me, please, what is untruthful about my opening paragraph? What part of the facts have I neglected to address? Have I given the reader all the information I have on the story, without embellishing or editorializing? The answers to my questions, in order, are: nothing, none, yes. Mission accomplished; Five W's addressed.

Why can't the elite media machine ask an honest question on the subject of John Kerry's war record? Why can't they even admit the possibility that he's in deep, dark yogurt over his Walter Mitty whoppers? As they editorialize at the height of emotion, even on front pages, how can they presume to call themselves journalists?

Speaking of Walter Mitty, here's my dream--A news story on my daily paper's front page that annouces, "The American media today admitted, in a televised news conference in Washington D.C., that they are guilty of journalistic malpractice in their coverage of John Kerry's presidential campaign."

The Five W's, beautiful in their simplicity. To quote the Bard, "Truth will out."