Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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The ‘Ws’: More than just the basics

February 19, 2014

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Every reporter learns the “Ws”: Who, what, when, where and why. They are the foundation of any good story. But most of them get short shrift after the first two or three paragraphs.

But in a fast-moving, “news now” environment, they can be a secret weapon for producing deeper, exclusive content. After all, it’s not enough merely to report the news now: Your readers probably already know the basic story. Business journalists are providing useful intelligence for smart readers. Coming back tomorrow with only today’s story is an embarrassment.

“Why”

is a great point of attack for advancing a story. For example, why is Comcast trying to buy Time Warner Cable? This need not be an element in the lead-all, 30-inch story. It should be a story in itself, deeply reported, and providing you the next day’s news rightly advanced.

“Who”

is another one. A profile of Microsoft’s new CEO is an obvious story. But another way to spin is forward is to report on who drove the selection, who were the winners and losers, the figures who made the decisions.

Even “where”

can be a profitable angle. For example, a merger can work in favor of one city and against others in employment, decision-making and capital deployment.

As for “what,”

don’t be satisfied with the early spin. Dig into the news to find the drivers behind an event that nobody else is covering. Don’t be afraid to go against the conventional wisdom if you can back up your angle. The conventional wisdom is often wrong.

But I come back to the alpha “W”: Why.

Why is borrowing on the rise again even though wages are stagnant? Why is the stock market continuing to rise despite a weak recovery? Why is your hometown touchstone company struggling when all its peers are doing well? Why is a certain county seeing much lower or much higher unemployment?

As you see, it can make a long list. And attacking these stories can make your coverage more relevant and stand out in a crowded field.

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