Could American journalists’ news questions be applied here?


It’s a topsy-turvy looking world at the moment, especially for the United States’ media as it comes to grips with ‘fake news’.

But rather than give up on the traditional methods of writing an accurate story, American journalists are adapting the traditional “Five W’s” (who, what, when, where and why).

It might be that these additions are useful for New Zealand journalists, as our general election continues to creep closer. The public, too, should keep the new additions close to hand, because as The New Yorker states, these could come in handy.

  • The Two “A”s
  • “Are you f@*$ing kidding me?”

Journalists will often be asked to report on things that sound like tasteless jokes. While the event itself might be a misguided attempt at performance art, reporters should always confirm the event they are covering is not an offensive prank.

“Am I dreaming?”

When confronted with strange, unsettling events, reporters should also make sure they are not having some kind of fever dream. What you are seeing could very well just be a nightmare, but believe it or not, it might also be an actual event that is happening in the real world.

  • The One “S”
  • “Seriously?”

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 have to check.

“Holy $h!T.”

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. Instead of asking “What happened?” journalists in 2017 might ask “What kind of God would allow this to happen?” “WTF?” 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?” 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!