Coronavirus, journalism and the five Ws

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Medical experts continue to scratch their heads trying to find a solution to the coronavirus and all its variants.

Certainly, scientists and doctors around the world have made strides in understanding how the virus works; that is why we have very effective vaccines.

In many ways, scientific and medical experts face the same difficult process that working journalists face every day. Of course, in most cases, the stakes are not so high for journalists.

A story about a Robeson County Council meeting doesn’t quite have the same impact as a story about rising coronavirus cases in the county.

Yet reporting on both issues follows the same general process.

Let me explain.

The words “who, what, when, where, why and how” haunt the dreams of journalism students and former editors like me in newsrooms around the world – including those here at The Robesonian.

For young journalists, answering these six questions quickly becomes a standard by which every school assignment is graded. You will find that all over the world, J-schools are constantly hammering this into the brains of their young student journalists.

And, you’ll find those same standards in news outlets large and small, from community newspapers like The Robesonian to national news outlets like The New York Times.

And, the most effective stories answer these questions in the first paragraphs, many in the first paragraph alone.

Let me back up a bit.

One of my primary roles here at The Robesonian is to ensure that you and readers like you have access to actionable information relevant to you here in the Robeson County area. The easiest way to do this is to provide stories that tell you “what” happened to “who”, “when” and “where”.

Admittedly, the most difficult of the five Ws to answer is “why”.

But journalists aren’t the only ones struggling to ask why.

Parents of a young child will confirm that it is difficult to answer the question why. “Why can’t I stand up and watch TV?” “Why can’t I eat ice cream all the time?” “Why does my sister get more candy than me? “Why do I have to sit in a car seat all the time?” »

Writing stories is sometimes difficult, because answering why something happened often comes up in routine – and not so routine – reporting.

For example, we like to report on what happens at Lumberton City Council meetings because in almost every event the story is presented for us in a way that is easy to report, easy to understand and can be quickly explained to meet an ever looming printing deadline.

Things are more difficult when we start asking why something happened at the town council meeting.

Every year the city approves a spending plan, but we always want to know why the city budget has gone up or down, or why more or less funding has been approved for the police department, electrical service, etc.

This is also the case for the scientific community.

Millions and millions of dollars have been spent trying to figure out why COVID-19 is so devastating.

With each day that this pandemic drags on, medical experts get closer to answering the question why.

Questions that will probably never be answered include: “Why do I need to get vaccinated?” “Why do I have to wear a mask?” “Why can’t I find what I want in the store?

You know, the same questions kids ask.

Although medical experts don’t yet have all the answers, they do know ways to protect us.

My “why” question is, why don’t people understand how important it is to get vaccinated?

David Kennard is the editor of The Robesonian. Contact him at [email protected]

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