Whatever Happened to the Five Ws?
onsider these recent headlines and the first paragraph lead-ins:
"Native Americans in Bizarre Dispute With Ranch-Owners — On a ridge overlooking this seemingly peaceful valley, Johnny Bearclaw sits with his grandson, Ben, and quietly contemplates the changes he has seen over the last three decades. Where once his expression was stolid and determined, there is now only confusion and doubt."
"Obscure Regulation Results in Controversy, Eviction — It wasn't that long ago that Myrna Olsen decided to invest some of her precious savings to install an air conditioner in her small but comfortable apartment in a landmark downtown building. It never occurred to her that she'd be forced to remove it three short months later."
See a pattern here?
It's tough enough getting the straight scoop on news events these days (see Local News, Spin). Increasingly, though, we have to wade through the superfluous verbiage of frustrated novelists even to get to the heart of whatever passes for the actual story.
Whatever happened to the 5 Ws, the most basic precept of a news story, hammered into every budding journalist by editors from Anchorage to Orlando? Tell 'em who, what, where, when and why in the very first paragraph.
In a few sentences we readers knew the gist of the entire story and could determine if we wanted more detail or weren't interested enough to read further.
So whence did this other cockamamie, pseudo-literary style of newswriting spring? Who got it into his head that we wanted to read cute little mini-works of drama in order to find out why a sewer line broke?
Admittedly, this annoying technique is typically confined to featurettes, the kinds of stories that are not of immediate import, somewhere between the hard news and full-blown, magazine-style features you usually find in the arts & leisure section.
But it's spreading. It's got to stop.
And, while we're on the subject of the news once again, can we retire the word disgruntled already? It deserves a quiet death from overuse, along with czar, anything-gate, chilling effect, and empowerment.