Chapter 20 of 24 from Bob Woodward

Writing the Story

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After all your investigative work and research, ultimately you have to write your story. Here, Bob shares strategies for turning what you've uncovered into a compelling piece of journalism.

Topics include: Write Every Day • Write a Premature Draft • Talk Through Your Story • How to Structure a News Story • How to Structure a Book

After all your investigative work and research, ultimately you have to write your story. Here, Bob shares strategies for turning what you've uncovered into a compelling piece of journalism.

Topics include: Write Every Day • Write a Premature Draft • Talk Through Your Story • How to Structure a News Story • How to Structure a Book

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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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 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.

Reviews

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

This is exactly what I hoped it would be; A master class taught by a master teacher who is also preeminent in journalism. Well done, Masterclass. Well done, Bob Woodward.

Wonderful educational explanation of what good journalism is and how to produce good stories that won't get compromised as new facts are revealed. Took more notes on this class than any other I have taken in the Masterclass series.

Brilliant words from Bob Woodward. I am enjoying this!

Good course and fascinating man with high integrity. It would have been 5 stars but I do think it revolved a lot around Watergate. It's obvious why but would have been good to expand out in to some of recent histories other major stories too.

Comments

A fellow student

I have always tried to present non-fiction in the least number of words With fiction I enjoy playing with words. I have no intention of publishing either one. I intend for my next class to be one in writing. At my age learning as more a matter of curiosity.

Michael O.

There's an intimacy in the way he speaks, the way he teaches, that makes me feel as though he is talking directly to me - kind of like a fireside chat with an old friend. This style combined with the copious and superb class materials, make for a satisfying and invigorating learning experience. I am so grateful to have "stumbled" into this MasterClass. Pilamaya.

Geri S.

Research has always been my strong suit. Putting it together coherently is the big challenge. I always have much more information than I can possibly use, so part of my challenge is figuring out which pieces are right for the story. I really like his suggestion of writing the premature draft. Talking it out is another excellent way to try and get a handle of the topic.

Val M.

I'm so grateful for the practical tips that he drops along the way. Write 10 pages a day. Look for 6 things that you can essentially hang onto. These are wonderful tips for someone who isn't even reporting, but is writing a non-fiction account.

Sean V.

When in the process of writing an article, do you start with writing the lede or with the background paragraphs? Does it vary from article to article? Does a lede flow natural from the background info or vice versa?

Jennifer

Structure is the key. And drafts, regardless of their contents, can propel you forward giving you cohesion for your story. This is an excellent lesson. Thank you Bob.

Sunny N.

I think of this module as the structure lesson. Roughing the plans for the way the house wil look, and polishing those plans to build a solid structure.

Tylia F.

This was my favorite lesson out of the whole course I fell as I can relate to this part of the class since I've been running for many years now everything Mr. Bob had stated stayed in my mind very and it was very truthful when it comes to writing you have to have ​psychology, and you have to structure without those two things you can't succeed in any field when it comes to being a journalist or a writer.

Mia S.

"Another aspect of this is for anyone, even a very fluid writer: Talk the story out to somebody. Most people are naturally oral, and if you just sit down and say - OK, this is what I've got, these are the six elements... It's astonishing how you can sit down with somebody, can be anyone you know, and say, This is where I am, let's spend a few minutes - let me sketch out, kind of like a pencil outline that is eventually going to become a full painting - ask me what you think the important questions are. Then you can say to whoever your superior is, This is where we are on this story. It's like if you're going out on a ship at sea, you take bearings. We're halfway there, we're 10 miles out of the port. In a news story, you want to have the lede in the first paragraph and say exactly what happened. You don't want to back in with history. Some magazines will do this, they relish it, if they can go back to the 19th century in the beginning of some pieces, they're really happy. People are busy. Tell them what the story is right away. You can put the background for people who need it or want it, later in the story. If there are immediate questions, you want to answer them as rapidly as possible. The example I use: 'The mayor announced they will not be submitting a budget this year at this time.' Immediate question: Why the delay? That would probably be the second paragraph. The third paragraph might be somebody who thinks that makes sense and it's a good idea, because it's politics, I'm sure there's somebody who disagrees strong, and that might be the fourth paragraph. The fifth paragraph might be the consequence: What's the meaning of this? The sixth paragraph might be something about timing: What is the difference between one side and the other? If your lede is something like, Something isn't going to happen, or Something did happen, you then want to get to the why as soon as possible. Begin the story in a book in the middle of what you're going to discuss. This is a dramatic or telling moment. Then it drops back, and says, OK, this is where we were at this point six months earlier. Then the narrative begins in chronological order from that point. I think that helps you establish intimacy and authority, but most important, the relevance to what you have written."

Mia S.

"If you really have done the reporting and have your outline, it's a joy. I've read 10 pages a day during the writing phase; sometimes that takes 4 hours, sometimes it takes 16 hours. I always discipline myself and say, I'm going to get those 10 pages done. It is not about, for me anyway, some muse or some inspiration, it is the information. After you report and talk to people and they have a sense of what the story is, write what I would call a premature draft. Not anything that's going to be published or broadcast, but a summary of what you know at midpoint. It's a very simple, obvious process - but lots of people kind of choke up, 'Oh, I want to have everything. I'm not clear what the lede is, the first paragraph... I have not questioned the fourth person who was involved in this.' Get some of it down. The guiding light always is, What's interesting, what's clear, what's new? The psychology of writing is so important. When you have something down, even if you're only semi-satisfied with it, you're going to sleep better that night. I frequently talk about the rule of six, which means that there are about six things in every story - not necessarily the first six paragraphs, but the six things that are important, including the lede. Now, sometimes it's only four, sometimes it's ten, but you want to list those, and then write it out. It provides you a guide for where the holes are. The saying is, 'Well how did it write?' Sometimes, you'll get in a position where it looks like, Oh it's going to be complicated or it's not going to work. And then you get it out on paper in some form, and it works. Or you may think it's going to be brilliant and you're already ready, and it kind of collapses or its weaknesses are quite evident."

Transcript

One of the things you'll find about writing if you have the information, if you really have done the reporting and have your outline, it's a joy. One of the things I do and have done in 18 books, just out of habit and kind of discipline, I've read 10 pages a day during the writing phase. Sometimes that takes four hours. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes 16 hours. And I always discipline myself. OK, you've got to get those 10 pages done on the days when you only have to work four hours. It is not about, for me anyway, some muse or some inspiration. It is the information. After you report and talk to people and they have a sense of what the story is, write what I would call a premature draft-- not anything that is going to be published or broadcast, but a summary of what you know at midpoint. It's a very simple, and in a way obvious, process. But lots of people kind of choke up. Oh, I want to have everything. I'm not clear what the lead is, the first paragraph. Oh, I have not questioned the fourth person who was involved in this. Get some of it down. The guiding light always is what's interesting, what's clear, what's new. Also, the psychology of writing is so important. When you have something down, even if you're only semi-satisfied with it, you're going to sleep better that night. I frequently talk about the rule of six, which means that there are about six things in every story-- not necessarily the first six paragraphs, but the six things that are important, including the lead. Now, sometimes it's only four. Sometimes it's 10. But you want to list those. And then write it out. And it provides you a guide for where the holes are. The saying is-- well, how did it write? And sometimes, you'll get in a position where it looks like-- oh, it's going to be complicated, or it's not going to work. And then you get it out on paper in some form, and it works. Or you may think that it's going to be brilliant and you're already ready, and it kind of collapses or its weaknesses are quite evident. Another aspect of this is for anyone, even a very fluid writer-- talk the story out to somebody. Most people are naturally oral. And if you just sit down and say-- OK, this is what I've got. These are the six elements or the four or whatever that they are, it's astonishing how you can sit down with somebody. It does not have to be a journalist. It can be anyone. And say, hey, this is where I am. Let's spend a few minutes, and let me sketch out-- it's kind of like a pencil outline that is eventually going to become a full painting-- what I've got. Ask me what you think the important questions are. And then you can say to whoever your superior is, or even the ultimate editor, this is where we are on this story. It's like if you're going out on a ship at sea, you take bearings. We're halfway there, or we're 10 mile...