From Journalism’s Five W’s to Journalism’s Five C’s

The five W’s of journalism remain a cornerstone of newsgathering today, but I have been increasingly thinking about five C’s as well: Context, Conversation, Curation, Community and Collaboration.

Below I try to define each, with particular attention to how they intersect, and I link to one good piece of writing on the topic.

Nothing about this is supposed to be comprehensive, nor is it particularly original, it’s just a list of the things I’m thinking about right now and an invitation for you to add your thoughts. 

Context: The web should be a powerful tool to help us make sense of the world, to better understand the times and places we live in. But the atomization of news online and the pace of updates mean we are increasingly consuming news without context. We get a flood of updates with little sense of connection or larger meaning. (See Matt Thompson on this topic)

Conversation: The web should be a new digital public square but we all know that most comment sections are wastelands of abuse and spam. In addition, where rich conversations occur they are too often siloed on various private platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Quora, etc…) and don’t build on each other or add up to a greater whole. (See Bora Zivkovic on pieces of this topic)

Curation: This is obviously related to the first two. The flood of information is a challenge for news consumers and an opportunity for newsrooms who can position themselves as trusted curators to vet, verify and weave together the best information available. New tools like Storify, RebelMouse, Spundge and others are helping with this, but challenges remain. (See Robert Scoble on this topic)

Community: For decades, many newspapers enjoyed a near-monopoly at the metro level and robust ad sales. As such, they didn’t have to think much about their community. But, the transition of journalism from a product to a service has meant that newsrooms need to reorient and reconnect with their communities. Most newsrooms are still adapting to this reality, and navigating how to engage their community and build meaningful and reciprocal relationships with their readers, who are now increasingly also participants in the news. (See C.W. Anderson on this topic)

Collaboration: Increasingly, collaboration across newsrooms and between journalists and their readers are becoming critical components of how the news is done today. In the face of dwindling budgets and staff cuts legacy newsrooms have turned to new online start-ups to leverage their digital smarts and their investigative muscle. These collaborations are not just about money and resources, but also about telling stories differently, across platforms and communities. (See Jan Schafer on this topic)

I’d love to see a chart-based version of these five issues that better illustrate the links and connections between them, as well as a more thorough reading list for each. Add other great links or connections in the comments.




  1. Interesting idea.

    I would ask if you’re describing or proposing a new reality.

    I’m also interested in how could these five C’s are impacting or might impact not only the five W’s but the whole journalistic practice.

    It would also be interesting to conceptualize these five C’s beyond the web, in diverse mass media.

    Best regards.

  2. Hi Josh,

    I agree with you on the importance of all the Cs, and I realize that “Context” is still a problem to solve. One way of solving this, could be that of hyperlocal news: through proposing news restricted to the areas where users live we would certainly limit what you called the “flood of updates with little sense of connection or larger meaning”. Moreover, in this case “Context” involves the issue of “Community” and encourages “Collaboration” and, above all, “Conversation”. We’ve got, then, four Cs…
    The answer is… How can we develop hyperlocal news? I think that mobile phones, with their apps and GPS, have great potential to do that, and we should take into consideration that mobile data traffic will increase over the next few years. It’s, then, likely that we’ll have to deal with this change sooner or later.

    I tried to be as concise as possible, but there’d be much more to say about the overall issue.

    Best wishes


    1. Josh Stearns says:

      I would love to see more hyperlocal news focusing on local angles to complex national stories, bringing key issues in the news home to people’s backyards. That would address some of the C’s listed above. But I don’t think that hyperlocal is the only way to do this. There will be various models – from something like Circa on the national stage to the very local Watershed Post…

  3. Hyperlocal success; whether it be in news delivery, goods, or services, hinges upon intimacy with and within individual, local markets. This is why we continue to see broad-based efforts fail time and time again.

    Great article Josh – it certainly gives us more to think about as we plan our way forward.


    Mr. H
    Team ON

  4. Josh Stearns says:

    Via Twitter I’ve had a few other C’s suggested…. Here is what I’m hearing:

    What would you add?

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