Those five "W’s" are the basis for all journalism, and supposedly they are to be in the first paragraph of all news stories. The idea is two fold. First, of course is that the reader can quickly get the gist of the story and then decide if they wish to press on for details, and second, if the story is too long to fit in the space allotted, the folks in the composing room can simply lop off a few inches at the end of the story without any any fear of removing something important.
By the way, an "h" has been added to the list, "how", but it doesn’t seem to fit in the list so is sometimes neglected.
There’s a great urban legend in journalism that describes an under pressure night editor for a small daily who had just received an article from a "stringer" who was a member of a local organization.
The article went something like this:
The annual meeting of the Pilksbury Guild of Orchid Growers was called to order by the outgoing president, Mary Smith. She called for the election of officers and Bill Jones was elected president. Helen Green, Vice president and in an upset, Ginger White received two more votes than Robyn Miller and became the firsts new secretary of the organization in twenty years.
In normal business….
The article went on for seven paragraphs explaining what happened for the rest of the meeting. The editor quickly put a headline on it and sent it out to composing. The headline read "Smith elected head of Orchid group."
Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough room for the last graph. The printer in the back shop just cut it off and that was it. The last paragraph read:
In new business, outgoing secretary Robyn Miller challenged the election of Ginger White, claiming that the election was rigged and the ballot box stuffed. In the scuffle that followed, Mrs Miller hit Mrs White on the head with a Gloriana Thanatopsis. A major riot broke out as a result and police were called. Mrs White was treated by paramedics on the scene. Both Mrs White and Mrs Miller were arrested when they attacked a policeman with a bag of fertilizer. Charges including inciting to riot, accosting a police officer, use of indecent language, and destruction of property were filed. Mrs. White and Mrs. Miller, along with the entire board of the Group remain in jail until the circuit judge arrives on Monday.
I guess the stringer didn’t know the bit about putting the important stuff first, or the part about the five "W’s".
What brings this to mind is this article from Phoenix. It comes from a TV story (that may explain it). Its about the fact that the parking facilities at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport were full on the weekend and over flow lots were opened. They got four of the five — but left out, for me, the most important, the why.
Why did those lots fill on a seemingly nondescript weekend in April. Was there a plague in Phoenix? Did all the retirees living in the area decide enmass to visit the grandkids? I guess if our source on this one was the crack reporters of KHPO we will never know. It might, however, have read like this:
Parking at Phoenix Sky Harbor will be in short supply this weekend as heavy travel caused by the number of fans following the Rattlesnake’s seven game winning streak filled the economy lots. Airport official Mary Smith said that the Copperhead overflow facility would be open and parkers would pay $5 a day. Automated signage would be activated to direct drivers to the off site lot.
Its always easier to edit than it is to create.