Resolution #2 – Unleash the power of the journalist’s “Why?”

For journalists caught in the whirlwind of chasing deadlines, hunting sources and crafting headlines, it’s easy to forget the simplest, most potent question in a reporter’s arsenal: the question “Why?” While it might seem obvious, the relentless pursuit of this single word is the difference between reporting and understanding. It’s the key that unlocks context, exposes hidden agendas, and ultimately illuminates the truth.

As journalists, we’re the storytellers, the seekers of reality amid the cacophony of information. In our pursuit, we have the responsibility of unearthing the truth, delving beyond the surface, and offering our audiences a glimpse into the heart of the matter. And it’s in the persistent interrogation of “Why?” that we unravel narratives that resonate, that unearth the unseen, and that challenge the status quo.

Every story is a puzzle, and “Why?” is the missing piece that completes the picture. It challenges assumptions, questions motives, and reveals the driving forces behind actions and events. It’s the difference between reporting an event and comprehending its significance.

Take a seemingly mundane, everyday annoyance: the insidious pothole. We see them multiplying on our roads, silently swallowing tires, people and patience. We report the facts – growing complaints, traffic disruptions, potential vehicle damage. But why are they suddenly multiplying? Is it budget cuts leading to neglected repairs? Are aging infrastructures finally succumbing to time and traffic? Could there be deeper flaws in construction materials or engineering practices? Asking “why” about these cracks in the pavement leads us beyond the asphalt and onto a path of potentially deeper truths.

Or consider a political scandal. We report the accusations, the denials, the legal proceedings. But why did this happen? Are there personal vendettas at play? Is it part of a larger corruption chain? Is it symptomatic of a flawed system? The endless “why” unravels the web of political manoeuvring, exposing underlying power dynamics and potential threats to democracy.

Even in seemingly mundane stories, the “why” adds richness and relevance. Why are there so many unhoused people on the streets? Why is the price of fuel skyrocketing? Why is there a sudden surge in political pronouncements on social media? Each “why” opens a door to a larger conversation, connecting individual experiences to broader trends and societal issues.

In a world inundated with information, where headlines blur and facts often succumb to sensationalism, the question of “Why?” holds more significance than ever. It’s the lighthouse guiding us through the storm of misinformation, encouraging a pause and reflection. And “Why?” isn’t solely a tool for investigative journalism. It permeates every aspect of reporting, from political analysis to human interest stories.

Of course, the relentless pursuit of “why” can be challenging. It involves pushing back against authority, challenging assumptions, and wading into uncomfortable truths. It demands time, dedication, and often takes us on unexpected tangents. It requires patience, persistence, and a willingness to navigate through ambiguity. Yet, it’s within this realm of uncertainty that the most profound revelations often reside.

So in 2024, don’t forget to ask “why”, ask it again. And then ask it again. Don’t stop asking until you uncover the whole truth, even if it’s messy and complicated.

ACME Mwalimu

The African Centre for Media Excellence's training unit, known as ACME Mwalimu, scours news platforms and online resources to curate the best training tips and resources for journalists and media organisations, empowering them to become impactful contributors to public debate and development. If you have a training tip or question, you can reach out to ACME Mwalimu at training[at]acme-ug.org.

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