Writing W5 News Article Leads

Excerpt from Fundamentals of Writing: How to Write Articles, Media Releases, Case Studies, Blog Posts and Social Media Content 

The W5 — who, what, where, when and why (and sometimes hoW) is key to the news article, particularly to the lead of a news article. Here is a news headline followed by a W5 news lead:

Headline: Wildfire towns declared crime scenes
Lead: Police in Whittlesea, Australia declared incinerated towns crime scenes today, and the prime minister spoke of “mass murder” after investigators said arsonists may have set some of Australia’s worst wildfires in history. The death toll rose to 166.

Deconstructing the W5, we see the following:

Who: police; the prime minister
What: declared incinerated towns crime scenes … spoke of “mass murder”
Where: Whittlesea, Australia
When: today
Why: investigators said arsonists may have set some of Australia’s worst wildfires…

Here is another news lead followed by a breakdown of the W5:

Lead: Russians held impromptu memorial services on Tuesday at two subway stations in Moscow where suicide bombers conducted brazen attacks a day earlier that killed 39 people and stirred fears of a revival of terrorism here.

Here is the W5 outline:

Who? Russians
What? Held impromptu memorial services; killed 39 people and stirred fears of a revival of terrorism here
Where? At two subway stations in Moscow
When? On Tuesday; brazen attacks a day earlier
Why? Suicide bombers conducted brazen attacks … a revival of terrorism

Here is another news lead followed by a breakdown of the W5:

Lead: International Business Machines chairman and chief executive Louis Gerstner will face a friendlier group of shareholders at the annual meeting in Toronto today, after the computer giant last week posted surprisingly strong earnings for the last quarter.

Who? International Business Machines chairman and chief executive Louis Gerstner
What? will face a friendlier group of shareholders
Where? at the annual meeting in Toronto
When? today
Why? after the computer giant last week posted surprisingly strong earnings for the last quarter

Of course, the full articles expand on the W5 and quote various sources; however, once you have the W5, you have the foundation of the story. And sometimes, once you have the W5, you have the entire story as in this example:

More American teenagers are having babies, getting arrested or being killed by bullets each year, according to America’s Children at Risk, a grim new portrait of American youth released yesterday. The year-long study said more than 6 percent of children under age 18—nearly 4 million—are growing up in so-called “distressed neighborhoods.” Their future is gloomy.

Who, what, where, when and why. And a stunning conclusion: Their future is gloomy. All in an amazing 58 words:

Who: More American teenagers
What: are having babies, getting arrested or being killed by bullets each year
Where: America; distressed neighborhoods
When: each year; new portrait … released yesterday
Why: growing up in “distressed neighborhoods”

There are times journalists find multiple W5 elements, or need more than the basic W5 points, before they can write stories. There are times when they do not use all the W5 points they find. Either way, W5 is the place to start. I am suggesting that W5 is the foundation of all writing. You should, in fact, know your W5 before you start to write any non-fiction—news article for sure, but even longer features or short tweets. Again, it doesn’t mean you will always use every W element, but know what they are before you write and make using them, or not, a conscious decision.

In a future post, we will look at W5 leads that don’t use all the W’s.

[This has been an excerpt from Fundamentals of Writing: How to Write Articles, Media Releases, Case Studies, Blog Posts and Social Media Content ]

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One thought on “Writing W5 News Article Leads

  1. Pingback: Different types of “W” leads | Everything You Wanted to Know about Freelance Writing

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