Arts & Entertainment, Business

Developing Sources

Bob Woodward

Lesson time 9:19 min

From establishing ground rules to strategically sharing what you already know, Bob teaches what to keep in mind as you initiate contact with sources for a story.

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

Topics include: Determine the Source’s Value • Establish the Ground Rules • Start at the Bottom • Share What You Know


So many people now have theories, conspiracy theories, worries, and they want you to-- I remember somebody calling once and saying, I have a major story for you. Well, good. He said, it's bigger than Watergate. Oh, what? My father's social security check has been late two months in a row. Not a story. And if he'd said, oh, my father is the deputy director at the Social Security Administration, and he has a file cabinet full of documents how $10 million has been stolen, then I want to talk. And so it's about the efficiency of connecting to people and ascertaining, you know, where do they work? What is the basis of their knowledge? You want to be able to sit down and make it clear what you are, make it clear who he is, what he represents, what he might know. And you don't want to go on a wild goose chase. And it's got to be somebody who credibly has access to information. And that often has to do with their job or their associates. I remember in the 1970s, giving a talk at one of the think tanks in Washington. And afterwards, a man came up to me and said, do you have time to go have coffee? And I said, oh, well I've got to get back to the paper. I'm really sorry. Who are you? And he gave me his name. I said, well, what do you do? And he said, well, I work in the White House. I'm in charge of oversight of the CIA. I thought, you know, it turns out I do have time to have coffee. I should, instead of saying no, I should have found out who he was and where he worked. And we did go have coffee. I got to know him, and he helped me on almost countless number of stories. And so you always have to be available. My phone number is listed. I try to answer e-mails that suggest that there is a good story there. Ground rules are confusing to people. On the record is somebody up front, named, and their position. Background means loosely. You're not going to name them, but you might use it, and you might say, one well-placed source in the Pentagon said, or something like that. Deep background is technically supposed to be something you won't quote any source on, but you will use the information, find a way to inform your story. And it may be something quite specific. I like unnamed sources, because it puts the responsibility on the back of the reporter. You have to check it. You have to make sure it's fair. And you will see things in the newspaper like, so and so-- one official in the White House asked to speak anonymously so he could speak candidly. So what does that mean? When he speaks with his name, he's not speaking candidly? I think that's often the case. And we get a lot of stuff on the record that just is not candid or true. If you are willing to take the responsibility as a reporter and use an unnamed sauce and check, and double check, I think you're going to get better information, by ...

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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