Chapter 15 of 24 from Bob Woodward

Preparing for the Interview

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There are several important steps you should take before formally interviewing a source. From determining the best location to meet, to deciding whether to send the questions ahead of time, Bob walks you through how to prepare for your interview.

Topics include: Ask People to Talk, Even When It’s Hard • Do Your Homework • Send the Question List Ahead of Time • Talk Where the Source Feels Comfortable • Be Completely Transparent • Explain the Process • Be Open About Time Commitment

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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To ask for that interview sometimes can be difficult, because you're going to ask them uncomfortable questions. As a young reporter being sent to the hospital after some woman's four children died in a fire, I went to the hospital, and I thought, oh, I don't want to talk to her, 'cause she's experienced the worst day of her life. And I just went up and introduced myself. She wanted to talk. She wanted to express her grief. And there is often a reluctance to do that. It's quite terrifying to talk to somebody who has lost a loved one. And the first time you do it, first couple of times, you really wonder, is this proper? Is this an invasion of privacy? And often, people really want to talk. But you still feel terrified, and your emotions are, am I really doing this? Is this working? And what happens is people really want to talk. They want to share. And I think that there is a feeling, if this happens, that you're doing a service. You're letting people see and explain the existence of this person and what it meant to them. If you're the Assistant Secretary of Defense and I've set up to interview you, I come to see you, I haven't just googled you. I have gone back and found the article that you wrote 20 years ago in Foreign Affairs. And I'm going to ask you about it. I'm going to say, on page 36, you said the following. You're likely to think, I thought only my mother read that article. It's not a ruse. I want to know how this person thinks. Why? What the connection is, the writing and the thought, and then functioning as Assistant Secretary of Defense. The takeaway from this is you need to treat people, obviously, seriously, but it's central that you take them as seriously as they take themselves. People take themselves seriously. I have never met anyone in any position in the White House, the Pentagon, the CIA, the Treasury Department, the House of Representatives, the Senate, who doesn't take himself or herself seriously. If you come in and say, oh, yeah, what do you do? What do you do, where are you from, and so forth? But if you come in knowledgeable-- this is the article you wrote 20 years ago, this is what you're doing, this is what I understand you said in the situation room of the White House-- people are going to take you more seriously. I've had, over the decades, people come and interview me and not know that I'd written-- you know, they want to interview me about the military, and they don't know that I've written about six or seven books about presidents in the military and their decision-making. Don't unintentionally belittle someone. And you do that by not knowing their history. I remember a couple of times going to interview people, and it turned out to be their birthday. And so you don't want to be ignorant, so I would start the interview, happy birthday. Or, you turn 52 on Wednesday, happy...

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