Chapter 11 of 24 from Bob Woodward

Building Trust With Sources

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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.

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

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.

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

Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward Teaches Investigative Journalism

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

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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.

Watch, listen, and learn as Bob teaches investigative journalism in his first-ever online class.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps, assignments, and supplemental material.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Bob will also answer select student questions.

Reviews

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

Thank you for such a class; I thoroughly enjoyed this.

Brilliant words from Bob Woodward. I am enjoying this!

Analyze the incoming information and see if it rings true, look at the info with a fresh set of eyes and above all apply common sense. You may sometimes have to view the place in person or online to verify info too.

I am not a journalist yet found this class fascinating given today's political environment and its historical perspective. Bob is thoughtful and very skilled in his approach. I feel like I will be better adapt in everyday conversation and managing others after this course. Thank you Mr. Woodward for all you have done for our country and your continued passion to get it fair and right.

Comments

Pamela K.

Oh Jesus, the story of Nixon's lawyer... Which is why journalism and freedom of the press matters, because otherwise -- we would NEVER get these stories. Although some people scream "fake news!" and "I hate journalists!" boy, are we lucky to have a free press in the US. (Typical Kissinger story, by the way.)

Kimberly S.

Read this! https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/11/13/crucifying-julian-assange?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=socialnetwork&fbclid=IwAR1t5JLi4FOL6iyOyxL1icdk5vA_p5ZrgEaVAIpFcHquKvi8pfU_EwmCXnw

Geri S.

I'm learning a ton from this class. I especially like his opinion on protecting sources as well as the line between friendship and reporter.

Sunny N.

My Takeaway: Sources--Friend or Foe? Neither. All must be protected to the best of my ability.

John S.

Trust requires a lot of patience on the part of the reporter. It requires building relationships. Most people are in no hurry to reveal the truth to someone they do not know.

Tylia F.

I think gaining trust is very important when it comes to writing a story because that's what gets you the truth and the news story

Mia S.

"The line between friend and source is a very complicated one. I've always tried to make clear, I'm a reporter, I'm taking notes, the tape recorder is on... But over many months or years, the source can get the feeling, 'Oh well we're friends, he's going to look out for me.' My job is not to look out for somebody, even somebody who's been a good source, other than to protect them. You need to keep that line as clear as possible. It's not the kind of clarity everyone would be comfortable with, because in each conversation or meeting you don't say, OK let's renegotiate our contract and make it clear what it is. The best way to make it clear is for the reporter to say, 'I'm going to use that; I'm going to protect you.' Make it clear what you're doing. When major stories or books are coming out, call people who've been sources and say, 'This is coming out, this is the essence of what it's going to be about. It's going to be close to the bone.' Sources who try to change the ground rules - it really doesn't work. 'You're not going to quote me, are you?' And I said, 'Of course I'm going to quote you.' And he said, 'Wait, I only talk on background.' The NYT beat us on that story. Lesson: When you talk to somebody, you presume it's on the record, and they want to change the rules retroactively, don't let them do it, and run the story. And then Sy Hersh won't beat you. Protecting sources is a tricky business. Sometimes you're going to have to meet in park, go to somebody's house, have one of those throw away cell phones, you're going to have to encrypt. But it's important that a reporter take every step necessary. The general thought about protecting sources is, don't tell anyone who the source is, except maybe one editor. Just say, Hey look, we gave our word. This is a matter of the information coming to us, we want to keep it flowing, so let's shut up."

Mia S.

"When you're trying to write about somebody, you're trying to understand them, figure out what's inside. What drives them? What drives these people, who are heads of big corporations, presidents, political figures, the obscure congressman from Missouri? He doesn't think he's obscure, and you need to find a way to get inside. 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. 'The Treacherous Curtain of Deference' that, around a president or CEO, or somebody who has authority, people will defer and not tell the person at the center the truth or the full story, and will feel protective of that person. Immediately 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, don't make harassing phone calls at midnight, don't show up at the office and scream in the hallway, people understand. It's this idea of, People like to talk, people have this secret - they are secret sharers with the First Amendment. They will talk eventually. Expediting intimacy is central to reporting. You have to be able to talk to somebody, ideally in person or on the telephone, find out what's really going on. 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. Often, you are going to the red hot center of their lives, it's an emotional moment of tragedy or triumph."

Gone W.

It's rather short sighted to think anyone in the middle of a nasty story should be friends with a reporter because most often the reporter will follow the story, which is not necessarily the way the source wants to control it. 'He who lives in glass houses should not throw stones' seems to be the self-preservation instinct that a journalist has to somehow override to get the source to open up. I could see why a reporter would want to have their source feel unguarded and like they are aimed in the same direction and being friendly is one way too intimate a shared position, but if the source is not lying the risk is almost always with them. So that being the case, in my armchair thinking it has to be a business relationship. The reporter gets the story. The source achieves their purpose, and as mentioned more than once, it could well be that the source is using the journalist. Very well pointed out that it is complex. It may be that at some point there could be great respect and appreciation involved, but that is a little different than garden variety friendship.

Jennifer

Whilst doing research on the first book of my End of Days Trilogy, I had an occasion to meet an ex-American Officer that worked at the Australian Pine Gap Facility, for a period of three years. He talked openly, and with such riveting confidence, I knew I had to include this information on Pine Gap, in my book. When I asked if I could use what he told me, albeit it changed to suit the scenario in my story, he literally fell to pieces in front of me. It was like I just told him he had a fatal disease and would be dead by morning. Here is this Officer,begging, then threatening me, that not a word he told me was to be repeated. I have never seen such fear in a man's eyes. This was the second similar reaction I had regarding Pine Gap. Out of respect, I used neither of these interviews. But it still begs the question. What else is going on there that takes the confidentiality act, very serious indeed.

Transcript

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...