Arts & Entertainment, Business

Building Trust With Sources

Bob Woodward

Lesson time 9:49 min

Learning how to build trust with sources is one of the most valuable lessons you can learn as a reporter. Here, Bob breaks down his approach—from expediting intimacy to maintaining your boundaries.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: How to Build Trust • Expedite Intimacy • Be a Journalist, Not a Friend • Don’t Let a Source Change the Ground Rules • Protect Your Sources


When you're trying to write about somebody, you're trying to understand them. You're trying to figure out what's inside, what drives them? What drives these people who are heads of big corporations? What drives presidents? What drives political figures, the obscure congressman from Missouri? He doesn't think he's obscure. And you need to find a way to get inside. And so many political figures, so many figures of power, have built an apparatus to prevent you from getting inside. You need to realize that, and you need to use the methods of time and persuasion and building trust. George Kennan, who is the author of the containment theory in the Cold War, used to refer to what he called the "treacherous curtain of deference," the treacherous curtain of deference that, around the president or the CEO of a big corporation or the president of the city council or somebody who has authority, there is that treacherous curtain of deference. People will defer and not tell the person at the center the truth or the full story and will feel protective of that person. And so if you go to the White House and want to talk to the White House Chief of Staff about the president, there is immediately that deference, and that curtain comes down. And you have to break through it. And to break through it takes time, takes a relationship of trust, a sense that you're not going to misuse the truth. As long as you're polite, as long as you don't make harassing phone calls at midnight, as long as you don't show up at the office and scream in the hallway, people understand. And, again, it's this idea of people like to talk. People have this secret, even though they may not often understand it, belief in the First Amendment. They are secret sharers with the First Amendment, and they will talk eventually. [MUSIC PLAYING Expediting intimacy is central to reporting. You have to be able to talk to somebody, ideally in person or on the telephone. You want to find out what's really going on, what's happening, if you can. If it's human interaction, it's listening. It's being sincere about, I need your help. One of the things you do is a reporter is you make momentary entries into people's lives when they're interesting. And, often, you are going to the red hot center of their life, that it's an emotional moment of tragedy or triumph. I was thinking a very poignant example. During Watergate, Herbert Kalmbach, who was Nixon's personal lawyer, who was one of the people who handed out the cover-up money and the illegal contributions, he came to Washington. He was testifying. And we met, and he came to my apartment at night. And he burst out crying about what had happened to him, what Nixon had done, what he had done, and the remorse and the confusion and the loss of-- he was going to jail. And so when there's something that happens, you need to be very polite and very c...

About the Instructor

Bob Woodward was just 29 when he changed a nation. His Watergate reporting with Carl Bernstein helped expose the corruption of the Nixon presidency. Two Pulitzer Prizes and nineteen best-selling books later, the legendary journalist is teaching his first-ever online class for anyone who wants to find the truth. Learn to investigate a story, interview sources, and understand how the news is written. The next history-making story might be yours.

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Bob Woodward

In 24 lessons, learn how to uncover the truth from the greatest journalist of our time.

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