Arts & Entertainment, Business

Finding Sources

Bob Woodward

Lesson time 8:30 min

Bob explains why sources decide to share information with journalists and teaches you how to assess who to talk to when investigating a story.

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

Topics include: Understand Why People Agree to Be Sources • Seek Out All Witnesses and Participants • The Internet Will Not Replace Human Sources • You’ll Be Surprised Who Will Talk to You • Never Give Up on Finding Sources


I think people want to be sources, first of all, because people like to talk. I think they want to get their side out. I think, in a sense, everyone is a secret sharer in the First Amendment, even if they have something to hide, they will often talk about a part of what happened. Sometimes they want to get dirt out on somebody, and you've got to listen to that, you've got to be careful about it, It's a tricky business, and you are dealing with people's lives and reputations. The reality is that reporters are always being used, because our job is to listen and if you have people who are CIA directors or presidents or the head of the school board in your community, these people want to do certain things-- they want to explain it. So every time we cover somebody's press conference or report, we're being used. That's fine. Our job is to communicate, but to communicate with skepticism, with inquiry. If there are things that are said that are not true, or things in the report that can be contradicted, it's our job to unearth them. Often, I will start with the morning and I'll look through notes and various things I've got, and I'll say, who do I really need to talk to first, second? And I'll start making lists. As a young reporter, old reporter, somebody at the student newspaper in high school or in college-- you get an assignment, you need to start making lists of people to talk to. And it shouldn't be three people or five people, it should be 20 people. So you have to work from, well who might have witnessed this? The guards. Well, who runs the jail? Who is that person? Can I talk to that person? Who are the supervisors on watch? You then build the matrix of people who might know whether this is true or this is untrue. What you want in the source is somebody who's a witness or a participant. In the journalism seminar I teach, one of the first assignments is to ask the question, after they read about Watergate and All the President's Men, about the reporting-- how would it be reported now in the internet age? And literally, some students think, oh, you would Google Nixon's secret fund and it would tell you the story-- that somehow the internet would radically convert and change the reporting procedures. When you examine it, Nixon's secret fund would not have been on the internet-- it was secret. The internet is an important, useful tool, but it's not a magic lantern where you can go and it's going to tell you everything. And as the students went through this in detail, they realized it's all about human sources, as Watergate was, from Mark Felt to the bookkeeper to the treasurer to people who observed the housecleaning in the Nixon campaign right after the burglars were arrested. They literally shredded $100 bills to get rid of them so the money could not be tracked. There was a massive concealment effort and cover-up from day one. Watergate...

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.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Bob Woodward

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

Explore the Class
Sign Up