Chapter 9 of 24 from Bob Woodward

Developing Sources

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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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

Very interesting and informative course, you will learn a lot. I know I did.

Bob Woodward's class made me more confident about taking on investigative stories, and tackling controversial topics bravely and ethically. 5 stars.

It helped in drilling those journalism lessons that they teach you in college but once you start a professional life, you are just made to forget them due to compulsions of news cycle and vested interests of media owners. It taught the value of diligence, focus and right way to cultivate sources and question, question, question. Thanks.

I am not a journalism student, but I greatly admire Bob Woodward. Even though he is not a dynamic speaker, this class was fascinating. He exudes integrity and I found myself riveted to every word.

Comments

Estela D.

I wonder how one develops the confidence to go talk to the sources. I know he talks about this in past lessons, but it always feels that is easier when you have a name that backs you up: the NYT, Washington Post, even less mainstream Media like Vice News. They may all be freelance journalists but just saying you've worked or written for these names, will help sources talk to you, instead of talking to a "no one" or newbie. At least that's how I feel about. Maybe is that I am just scared of failure.

Val M.

Strikingly useful lesson, even for talking to sources about a non-fiction event or person who you would like to learn more about/write about and not traditionally report on.

Geri S.

True, "I need your help" immediately creates a level playing field. Especially in this climate of mistrust of the media. I like to start with lists and also researching secondary sources and articles. I want to see what has been written about the subject and gather names or associations that may have some information I want to take further. It's interesting how these secondary sources have led me to some excellent primary sources.

Ulf J.

I do love his one-liners - in this case: I need your help. A person is very strong when he or she are able to say I need your help

Sunny N.

"I need your help"...strong and vulnerable at the same time. Human. No wonder it works.

John S.

Woodward reveals an important lesson about sources in this chapter: Valuable sources can be found at many levels, not just the top (CEO, President, etc.) in fact, the middle managers are most often more valuable than the senior people. In most of my experiences those in the middle are doing the heavy-lifting, in on meetings, knowledgeable and witness to decision-making processes.

Tiffany C.

I like the idea of the incremental reporting ("Did you see today's story?"), but I wonder how much you should share when you're starting the story. Going off of his example, you don't want to reveal to the mayor's aide that you have information linking the mayor to XYZ scandal because that aide is bound to report that info back to the mayor, and your story could dry up. So how far to do you go/how much do you reveal to get that aide to trust you?

Mia S.

"One way to overcome the roadblock and the resistance is, you've already got part of the story. And you go to somebody and you say, I know there is a document where... Somebody will say, Well you've got enough of the story, you may be able to write it, maybe I can talk about it or give some more detail or rationale for what the decision was. When you have part of the story, it's critical, and it's the role of incremental reporting. Sometimes you have to publish part of the story in the newspaper to smoke people out, to get people to come forward. I can remember a number of times going to people and saying, Did you see today's story about this? Well, it's incomplete. Can you help me take it further? You immediately establish that the transaction is, You don't have to talk to me, deal with me - but I need your point of view. Whether it's about coverups, whatever it is - people tend to, Ah, OK, somebody wants to listen. And I say, I need your help. Those are the four most potent words in journalism."

Mia S.

"It's about the efficiency of connecting to people and ascertaining, 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, who he is, what he might know - you don't want to go on a wild goose chase. It has to be somebody who credibly has access to information, and that often has to do with their job or their associates. You always have to be available; my phone number is listed, I try to answer e-mails that suggest there is a good story there. Ground rules are confusing to people. 'Background' means loosely, you're not going to name them, but you might use it; you might say, One well-placed source in the Pentagon said. 'Deep background' is something you will not 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, make sure it's fair. 'Speak anonymously so he can speak candidly.' 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 source, and check and double check, I think you're going to get better information by and large. There are exceptions, where somebody's a whistleblower and they're willing to talk directly on the record. Starting at the bottom is key; often people up the chain of command or at the top will have an incentive to conceal. And the incentive to conceal is least at the bottom. If you don't have a name and you're starting and you want to interview the mayor, start with the mayor's aides and find out who the four key people are and interview them. Then the mayor's going to get four reports from his aides, that young whatever has been interviewing me, he's very informed, he's working hard and he's listening. They will say, You might as well do the interview. You can get to those aides really quickly, in time - and you can call and say, 'Hey, you know, my editor wants me to talk to the mayor - I don't want to talk to the mayor until I've talked to YOU.'"

Krish

Love the ending words - "I NEED YOUR HELP". Guess a lot of the times, it is about about "Incremental Journalism" as Bob says - getting a little headway and then going to the sources & getting some more info and so on.

Transcript

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 ...