The ‘why’ behind the ‘who’ and ‘what’

In journalism, there are 5W’s (who, what, why, where, when) and 1 H (how?).

Of those, the most important is the “why.” An obituary today for a native Minnesotan journalist provides more proof.

Ben Silver died yesteday at his home in St. Louis Park. He was a TV reporter for CBS News before a career as a journalism professor. His “what” is a who’s who of historical moments.

But the “why” of his life’s chosen work is a better story…


At 17, Silver dropped out of high school to join the Army in honor of his oldest brother, Morris, who had died fighting shortly after landing at Normandy. It wasn’t until college that Silver discovered a love for reading and learning. On the GI bill, Silver earned a bachelor’s in speech from the University of Iowa. He had intended to go to law school. But while working the potato line at the university’s cafeteria, a friend who passed through regularly convinced him to pursue journalism. After graduation, Silver moved back to New York, met and married his first wife and worked for his father managing his apartment buildings. But Silver said he never wanted to be a businessman. He wanted to be a journalist, specifically on CBS

When we meet people, we often ask “what do you do?” How much more interesting would it be if we just asked “why do you do what you do?” With any luck at all, the answer will involve working the potato line at a cafeteria.

  • Jeff

    Another wonderful line:

    “While covering the Chicago riots for CBS, Silver met his future wife, Linda Rude, at a club. He spotted the young, blue-eyed beauty wearing a nursing uniform and asked her to dance. The two dated long distance and married a year later. Together they had three children. ”

    Now I understand why you love to read the obits., Bob.

  • Bob Collins

    Isn’t it beautiful? When I was a young journalism student, it was pointed out to me that the obituary page — at least at that time — was the second-most-read page of the daily paper.

    I couldn’t believe it. What’s wrong with people?

    Now, of course, I understand. The best stories you can read, are on the obit page.

    And not just because I’m getting closer to being one of them.

  • kay smith

    The obituary of the father of a friend read in part, “We (3 sisters) promise to have the oil changed in our cars on schedule.” Such a droll and sweet thing to put in their dad’s obit.