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Business, Politics & Society

Finding the Story

Bob Woodward

Lesson time 9:45 min

Bob explains what makes a compelling news story. He urges you to be open to changing course if a better story materializes.

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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If somebody came from Mars to our planet, and spent a year and went back, and was asked, who in America has the best job, I'd say the reporters, because the reporters go around and immediately do what's interesting. Ben Bradlee never came out of his office saying, somebody find me something boring and routine. You automatically go for what is important, and what is electric, what people are talking about. I remember when I was doing some editing at the Post, somebody ran in and said they'd been at some place, and it is the talk of the town. Everyone's talking about it. Ah, that's the story you want to do. Great stories have to do with power. How are people using power, abusing power? If the editor comes to you and says, I have information that the city roads department is repaving the mayor's driveway, you have to find out what the paving company is, who ordered it, who's paying for it, get some pictures, talk to the mayor, and if he has OK'd the paving of his driveway at city expense, you have a great story. [MUSIC PLAYING] Bacon cooler stories are when there is a surprise, when there is something that you don't expect. It would be a story where you're reading the newspaper in the morning, and you have the bacon on your fork, about to put in your mouth, and the story is so great, the bacon never makes it, and it cools. And one of Ben Bradlee's favorite stories was that they buried Averell Harriman, a very famous diplomat and a former governor of New York, and Katharine Graham, who was the publisher of the Post went to his funeral. And then Ben was able to tell her, go up to her office and say, how was the funeral? And she said, oh, it was very moving and so forth, and Ben said, Av was not in the casket. He was not in the casket. They buried an empty casket, and went through the whole burial charade. She couldn't believe it. And then we had evidence that Av was elsewhere. That's a bacon cooler story. [MUSIC PLAYING] The wasted time quotient can be large. After George W. Bush was elected, and became president, January 2001, I decided that the defining event of his presidency was going to be his tax cut. And so I worked on his tax cut for nine months, until the morning of 9/11, when I was doing an interview for the tax cut. And because of the magnitude of 9/11, I realized, the defining event for Bush was not his tax cut, but 9/11. And I have boxes at home of documents and interviews on the tax cut. And if you ever run into anyone who wants to do a book on Bush's tax cut, please call me. But 9/11 was such a trauma. I think you could argue that 9/11 is the pivot point for this century, and everything that's happened 17 years into this century is connected to 9/11 and that terrorist attack. [MUSIC PLAYING] In the 1980s, when Reagan was president, I did a story about a top secret operation of the CIA to try to overthrow the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi. Reagan said, ...

Find the real story

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.


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

Content and presenter were excellent. BUT the music was invasive, annoying, boring, and took too much time. I would listen to the classes again if I didn't have to contend with the music. Less and more varied interstitial music, please. Thank you.

So insightful and class [stories] beautifully told.

Mr. Woodward’s class was timely, exacting, quality work. Thank you!

It was an honour to listen to what he was telling us


Josh F.

I first learned what a journalist was, really, when I was researching a high school history paper. How the idea came to me, I don't know, but I was fascinated by the Mcarthy-era anti-communist witch hunts in the early 50's and I happened upon clips of Edward R. Murrow. The cadence of his speech, the intention with which everything was said, he became my archetype for a journalist. Fast forward to 2016, after a wide detour into other things, I came back to my fascination with journalism, and Bob Woodward is suddenly everywhere. Mr Murrow may be gone, but thankfully, we still have like him left in the business, striving to be reporters of facts and objective truths. Good night, and good luck. Thanks for reading.

Vickie R.

Scary. Although I herad Ghadaffi liked my cartoon of him that is also now MIA.

Vickie R.

Was it really true that Ghaddafi had a crush on C Rice? Just asking. Heard he had photos of her all over his palace? A virtual shrine to her.

Vickie R.

FUNNY! I've even heard of FAKE funerals from bad people who want to be lost and not found.

Vickie R.

Speaking of Ben Bradley I got a photo taken with him at the World Affairs Council and he looked very uneasy around me and I never even met the guy in my life? Photo is now MIA.

Kenna & Jeff P.

I think it's interesting how far Bob goes to make sure he doesn't appear politically biased. I and other journalists I know try very hard to keep our personal political stances out of our own writing, but we definitely don't hide our opinions in casual conversation in the newsroom. He does have a point, though; I'll be holding my tongue the next time I want to comment on a story about the president to my coworkers.

A fellow student

I was in Saudi Arabia when this happened. I made it a policy not to take part in local politics. He is lucky.

Jalelah B.

Who did he confirm with about the deaths? We seek balance in our reporting, to make sure that we don't just get one side of the story. Is this one of the instances that this can be thrown out the window?

Meg N.

Finding the Story.. is THE starting point, and I still have trouble with the philosophy driving the treatment.. Although I agree that 9/11 was a pivotal event and the facts need to be made known quickly and thoroughly, (1) I wish the tax cuts story had been brought out a few days later, and (2) I am reminded of the 3/11 Tohoku Earthquake, epicenter magnitude 9 coverage by the US major media, where 'worst case scenarios' were broadcast without confirmation of the facts, where 'top talent' with no background were helicoptered in to cover the story that they misrepresented.. and where the BBC were requested by their ambassador in Tokyo to stick to the worst REASONABLE scenario, and had people with more background on the stories, which were much more accurate. Chasing a 'bacon-cooler' moment can also be a wrong direction. The mayor's-driveway-paved-at-city-expense story... was dirt-digging and would here be an admirable second-tier/evening-or-weekly-magazine/tabloid story... Investigating how ordinary people could get the potholes in their streets or roads repaired more quickly would be, in my mind, a quieter but more useful story... that might include tips on which elected officials could put a word in the right ears to get the job done promptly, as evidenced by repairwork observed (in the mayor's own street...)

Hidayah S.

When Bob Woodward said he worked on Bush’s tax cut for nine months before switching focus to 9/11, was that the only story he was chasing? Does Woodward not cover diary events or have a KPI? Or does the concept of KPI apply only to the millennial generation?