Arts & Entertainment, Business, Writing

How to Approach In-Depth Reporting

Bob Woodward

Lesson time 9:19 min

In-depth reporting requires you to be persistent, focused, and proactive. Bob discusses the value of giving your case the time it deserves and getting out in the field to verify what you've learned from your research.

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Topics include: Things Aren’t Always As They Appear • Focus and Act Aggressively • Give Your Case the Time It Deserves • Get Your Rear Out of the Chair


When I was 16, 17, and 18 in high school, being raised in Wheaton, Illinois, which is this town outside of Chicago where Wheaton College is, Billy Graham went there. It's a very sanctimonious atmosphere, couldn't buy or sell liquor, the people who went to Wheaton College had to sign pledges-- no dancing, no card playing. And working as the janitor in my father's law firm, I would go in at night to clean up toilets, ashtrays, and looked at papers on my father's desk and some of his partners' desks, and said, wait, oh, this is kind of interesting. Oh, this case involves one of my classmates in high school. Then I would follow the paper trail up to the attic where they had the disposed files, and discovered that the father, or an uncle, or somebody was involved in a dispute that was kept secret, sexual assault, physical assault, horrendous IRS cases, all kinds of business fraud. And so I became somewhat obsessed with looking at the disposed files, and you see the lack of correlation between what's in those real documented court and police files, from the way people present themselves in town. And it was a lesson that things aren't as they appear, and that you need to find the disposed files if you want a fuller version of what the reality is. I guess I can't emphasize this enough, the roadblock often is you, that you're not creative enough, that you're not determined enough. In reporting, you need to focus. You need to say, this is the story I'm working on. This is what I'm trying to get to. This is what I'm trying to understand, what I'm trying to unravel, gather information, to find documents, get people to talk, try to verify, try to see if there are other sides to the issue, and then have the experiences and go there yourself. Show energy, curiosity, as I say, work extra hard. Work two hours, maybe four hours extra than the eight hours that's in the normal workday. Instead of going to bed or watching television make 3 calls, or whatever to people at home, or go see people. And then do it aggressively. Don't sit by and be passive. One of the things we did with reporters at one point at The Post, we had a little sign that we pasted in the top of their computer, it was FAA. And that's not Federal Aviation Administration, it means focus, act aggressively. Building a case is the process of gathering the interviews, the documents, the witnesses for the story, and that takes time. It's so much about time against the problem and exploring all avenues. So what you do is you immerse yourself completely in it. I think that's the core value that a reporter brings. And I think people understand that, and they want facts. And in the case of Nixon, if you look at two years, two months of coverage, it was step by step. There were dramatic moments, but it wasn't all done in a tweet. It wasn't done in one day. It wasn't done by one reporter, or a group of r...

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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