I posted on LinkedIn about the five Ws, and their importance when it comes to news stories and media communication.
Some professionals in other sectors have been in touch to say they’re important right across the board.
Others wanted to know a bit more about each of the five Ws (what, where, when, why, who) and how best to deploy them in their work.
I’ll go into more detail about each one over the course of the week.
In my view the most important (and indeed the most commonly omitted) is WHEN.
You need it for urgency and relevance.
A communication without either, and therefore missing punch and potency, will fall on deaf ears.
As human beings we need to know when things are happening. Later today? Tomorrow? Did it just happen yesterday? Is it happening as we speak?
If the answer is, actually, a few weeks ago, interest levels nosedive.
Worse, if people have to read several sentences into a piece to discover this disappointing development, you disinterest and annoy them at the same time.
The beauty of the WHEN is you don’t even need to explicitly say it. A smart introduction in the present tense can very effectively convey the impression that this is happening NOW.
Here’s a good recent example from the Times: “British Airways passengers are being asked to check in their luggage the day before they fly amid delays, cancellations and mile-long queues at airports.”
We can see the who (BA), the what (check in luggage), the why (avoid delays) and where (British Airways assumes holiday-makers across UK).
The simple “are being” tells us the WHEN without need for elaboration.
All this detail in just 24 words.
There is a phrase used by journalists which proclaims: “It’s not old ‘til it’s told.”
This permits coverage of a dated story on the assumption it is hasn’t previously been revealed.
But even in those instances, the intro concludes with something like “… it has emerged” or “… documents have now revealed”.
A good intro would never state: “The NHS in Scotland faces a waiting times crisis unless more staff are hired, a report written six months ago that we’ve just found warns.”
The single most important thing about a communication is that it’s relevant to those who are in receipt of it.
And what better way to do that than to make them think the development in question is unfolding before their very eyes.