Chapter 16 of 24 from Bob Woodward

Conducting the Interview

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Interviewing is one the most important parts of a reporter's job. Here, Bob details the best practices to follow as you question a source.

Topics include: Assume Your Source Will Talk About Everything • Ask Questions Chronologically, With Some Exceptions • Stick to Relevant Questions and Be Upfront • Ask About Emotion • Be Aware of Your Body Language • Mine the Silence • Ask Follow-up Questions to Get Clarity

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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I've done interviews, joined interviews with other reporters and on a couple of occasions, the reporters will say things like, oh, I know you don't want to talk about whatever. And that's, you should assume people are going to talk and answer your questions. I even remember an instance doing an interview with somebody at the CIA and the other reporter said, oh, that's classified, so I know you can't talk about it. My presumption is that they're going to talk about everything, even maybe things they don't want to talk about. Maybe things that are classified. Because people will do that and as we know, there's classified and classified. And real serious reasons for classifying things. And things that it just gets the stamp automatically and people can talk about it or talk around that. You can't cover foreign affairs or intelligence issues and talk to people and not get into classified information. You're communicating just with your presence. And every aspect of what you wear, how you stand, how you shake hands, how you blink or don't blink, how you smile or don't smile is part of it. And you're trying to open a door for somebody to tell you something that's useful for you, and ultimately, in the case of the Washington Post, your readers. Nodding can be dangerous, because it makes it sound like you agree with everything someone is saying. So it's better, it's like quiet hands, quiet head, quiet face. But sometimes somebody is saying something or framing something in a way that you agree with or no one would disagree with, and so you probably instinctively might nod. But that's dangerous, and you don't want to nod when you think it's wrong or untrue or there's a body of immense contradiction. So much when you are trying to do something for the newspaper or a long project or book, turns on specifics. You need a narrative. And so what I do is develop a chronology to ask about things that happened at specific times. And generally do the interview in chronological order, and try to write the book that way. It's a way to organize what you're going to write and people live their life in chronological order. I haven't found anyone who's been able to do it another way. And people will wonder, oh let's see, did that happen before this? Or was that after I decided to go to war in Iraq? Was that after the congressional resolutions? And it helps the person you're interviewing fix their own place in time. The chronology will be major turning points, decision points. It will be some of the public information, but it will also be material that I've gathered from others. And that demonstrates to the person you're interviewing, look, I'm working on this. I've done some homework and I've got some new information. The order is generally chronological, but sometimes you're not going to save the really tough question for the end. I don't think tha...

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 eighteen 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.

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Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward Teaches Investigative Journalism