The most important question

By: By Mac McPhail - Contributing columnist

Who? What? Where? When? Why? Those were the questions we were told to try to answer in every news story we write. That was one of the first lessons learned from the beginning journalism class I took many years ago while in college at ECU.

That was back during those Watergate days when we thought we could be the next super reporter, like Woodward and Bernstein, who broke the Watergate scandal. But I soon learned that being a reporter may not be my calling.

First, I wasn’t a good typist. Those days were long before today’s computer and keyboard, with its easy delete, backspace, cut, copy and paste. It was a slow process for me, using an old fashioned typewriter, trying to write up a story. Second, it took a long time for me to organize the facts I gathered into a story. It seemed like I was always starting over, taking forever, trying to compose an article. That’s why I admire reporters, like those at this newspaper, who have to write up the news every day. It’s hard enough for me to get a column ready once a week.

So, after a couple of journalism classes, and a few stories for the campus newspaper, I decided to move on to something else. No future Pulitzer Prize in Journalism for me. But I still remember a few things from those journalism days. And I keep them in mind today, when reading a newspaper story or watching a news report on TV.

A good news story will have the five “W’s” – the who, what, when, where and why. And as much of that information should be in the first paragraph, or beginning of the story, as possible. Then the rest of the story should be expanding and more information relating to those five “W’s.”

But sometimes reporters don’t have all the information. Then they have to acknowledge the facts that they have. This is especially true when it comes to the “why” of a story. Then you will hear or see terms like “motive unclear,” or “cause unknown.” Because the reason behind in a story or event is usually the last thing to be discovered.

In our personal lives, we will often ask the five “W’s.” We want to know who, what where, when and especially why. Why is this happening to me? When will it be over? Where will I end up? What is going on? And who is there to help me? We’ve all had those questions, or some form of them, at one time or another in our lives.

Job did. You probably know about the Bible book of Job from the Old Testament. He had been a wealthy family man. Then he lost everything. Job lost his wife, his children, his wealth, his health, everything. So he had questions. What happened? When will it be over? Where will I go? And the question asked throughout the book, why is this happening? It was a question that his so-called “friends” were happy to give their misguided opinions.

Toward the end of the book of Job, he starts to get a handle on his shattered life. It relates to the first “W” question – Who? Job states, “He (God) knows the way that I take; and when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10) Job didn’t understand what had happened to him. He sure didn’t understand why. But he understood who his God was, that God was in control, and that in the end he would be okay. There would still be many more questions, but, for Job, the “Who?” question had been answered.

While probably not as dramatic as Job, we’ve all have been in those questioning periods at one time or another. For me, it was many years ago, in another town. It was the darkest time of my life, and my world had been shattered. I had those questions. A friend came by to visit, to try to encourage me. (Looking back now, he seems to be like one of Job’s friends.) He asked me, “Don’t you feel like God has let you down?”

“Let me down?” I answered. “He’s the only thing holding me up!”

I still don’t have all the questions answered from that difficult time in my life, especially the “Why?” question. But, for me, the “Who” question has been answered. And it has help me answer and understand many of the other “W” questions I have had to face. And accept those where I have yet to have the answer.

By Mac McPhail

Contributing columnist

Mac McPhail McPhail