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If you are serious about becoming a journalist, Bob Woodward’s Masterclass is a must. This fully-fledged journalism course will enable you to hone your skills and write compelling copy that makes a difference.
Non-writers will also enjoy this course. Taking it provides a fascinating insight into the world of journalism. A glimpse of history through the eyes of someone who has had regular access to the USA’s last eight presidents.
Who is Bob Woodward?
I am aware that not everyone who is reading this review knows who Bob Woodward is. So, I thought I would take a little time to tell you a bit about him. This will help you to better understand the rest of my review and what you will learn from taking Bob Woodward’s masterclass.
Bob is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, who has been in the business since 1970. In 1972, he along with Carl Bernstein started to uncover, and reveal to the world, the Nixon administration’s dirty tricks. That body of work is known as the Watergate Scandal.
This established him as a serious journalist and fueled a glittering career. Over the years, he has won nearly every American journalism award. At the time of my writing this review, he is an associate editor at The Washington Post.
There is no question that Bob Woodward knows how to uncover the truth and communicate it in a way that gets noticed. If you want to understand the world better, write compelling and important pieces you will find this journalism course to be invaluable.
Bob Woodward’s guiding journalistic principles
You need to get out of your comfort zone. You need to move into areas that you naturally do not understand because the learning curve is fast when you do that.Bob Woodward Masterclass.com Investigative Journalism Review
In this lesson, Bob makes it clear what investigative journalism is all about. He explains that if you want to uncover the truth, you need to have an open mind and not let your personal opinions or prejudices get in the way.
To keep himself on track, Bob uses the guiding principles that are outlined below. Each of which he explains in detail, during his journalism masterclass.
- Get out of your comfort zone
- Be factual
- Do not take political sides
- Do not be afraid to go your own way
How to uncover the best stories
Recognizing a good story is a big part of the job of being an investigative reporter. You need to learn how to choose which stories to cover and know when to move on if something does not pan out.
For example, Bob Woodward worked for months on a story about Bush’s tax cut. But, he dropped it the moment 9/11 happened.
He knew that was a definitive story. So, Bob dropped the tax cut story, despite the amount of time he had spent working on it. This is something he has done numerous times during his career more examples of which he shares later in the course.
A critique of Woodward’s interview with Trump
In this section, of the course, students sit down with Bob and go through his interview with Donald Trump. This is the first of his two case study videos, both of which I learned a lot from.
I really wish he had included more of these in this masterclass. Hopefully, as other instructors have, Woodward will make a 2nd masterclass and include more case studies in that one.
If he does that I will certainly use my all-access pass to take that course too. The all-access pass only costs $180, which is the same price it would cost you to take two individual masterclasses. If you have the cash to do so, I would highly recommend that you treat yourself to one of these passes.
But, I digress and need to get back to telling you about what you can expect to learn from Bob Woodward’s current masterclass. Below, are some of the questions Bob’s students asked during the case study video. He answers each one, in full, providing everyone with some fantastic interviewing tips.
- When do you decide to interrupt someone you are interviewing?
- How do you get around the fact that Trump likes to carry on talking?
- How do you know when to move on to the next point or question?
- How do you know when to stop pressing for an answer?
- How do you spot the lede during an interview, so that you can dig deeper?
- Why did you not call Trump out during the interview when he got the numbers wrong?
- How do you deal with someone who is spouting inaccuracies?
- How do you pick the lede after the interview is finished?
- How do you decide which questions to ask and what to ignore?
Making the most of the masterclass workbook
At this stage in my review, I have to mention the excellent workbook. It is packed full of extras that you can use to cement what you are learning.
Bob Woodward’s workbook is divided into sections that relate to each video and includes links to additional resources. For example, the entire transcript of Bob’s interview with President Trump is made available via a link. I took the time to read it and, as a result, got a lot more out of this section of the course.
So, at some point, I plan to go back over this course and do this for each of the remaining videos.
I also plan to complete at least some of the assignments Bob has taken the time to set. Reading the workbook it is clear that they are not there just to fill space. They are all targeted tasks that fit in with what you have just learned.
How to approach in-depth reporting
In this section of the course, one phrase stood out to me – “building a case takes time”.
When I heard that it struck me that putting together an investigative piece is very much like building a legal case. You need to dig deep, follow every lead and look beyond the obvious.
Then take all of that information and craft it into an article that lays out the arguments in a way people can easily follow. Naturally, this process is time-consuming. Being an investigative journalist takes time and dedication.
I was also surprised by the emphasis Bob put on visiting the scene. It is the safest way to verify what you have heard or concluded and pick up extra information. Later in the course, Bob revisits this subject and covers it in more depth.
In his video “Developing the Theory of the Case” he explains that is easy to become blinkered. To be blinded by your own theory. Just because you think something went down a certain way does not mean that is what happened.
You need to maintain an open mind and use your colleagues to help you to keep things in perspective. Bob provides an interesting example of how he himself fell into this journalistic trap.
A case-study: Watergate
The story that made Bob’s name was Watergate. So, this course would not really be complete without him using aspects of that story to back up some of his teaching points.
Like so many stories, it started small. It was “a third-rate burglary” that eventually took a president down. But that only happened because Bob and Carl Bernstein realized there was something very weird about the burglary. That tiny moment of intuitively realizing something was “off” is what lead them to ask who committed the burglary and what was taken. In time, these simple questions led to them uncovering a rat’s nest of corruption.
In this lesson, Bob also briefly explains how to deal with the fallout of working in the field of investigative journalism. If you are a good journalist, at some point, you are going to upset someone. Often, it will be someone who is very important, so you need to be prepared for this.
Staying organized as an investigative journalist
When you work on a case, especially for many years, you gather a lot of evidence. So, you need to be organized and keep all of the data and evidence you have gathered in a secure place. In this video, Bob touches on how to do this.
How to acquire written proof for a news story
In this age of “fake news” documented proof is invaluable. Getting your hands on this is rarely easy. But, sometimes you can get this type of proof simply by asking for the relevant documents. Who you ask, when and how can make a big difference to how successful you are. So, this subject is covered in detail, by Bob.
He also explains the importance of building relationships with people who were “in the room” at the time of an incident. It is surprising how often they have access to important documents or notes and are willing to provide copies. During this video, Bob identifies several other avenues for securing documentary proof and explains how to get the most out of each of them.
How to develop your sources and build trust with them
In his “finding sources” video he goes into some of these in even more depth. Here he talks about the psychology of extracting information from people.
Importantly, he also covers how to recognize when you, as a journalist, are being used by someone. This happens a lot, so you need to know how to handle that situation.
Bob dedicates an entire video to the process of building trust with someone. He also covers how to find reliable sources you can talk to without alarm bells going off higher up the chain of command.
When that happens, channels of inquiry tend to close down quickly. Usually, the net result is that you are unable to write your story.
A lot of what Bob covers in this video is reinforced by the case study, in the next video. Unsurprisingly, he returns to the Watergate Scandal and explains, in depth, how Mark Felt became Deep Throat, the whistleblower.
This is a fascinating part of the course, which demonstrates the need for investigative journalists to understand human nature. You have to be patient and be prepared to take the time to draw people out.
Growing your list of sources over time
It is clear that Bob has had to build some of his sources up over the course of several years. Building a good reputation as a journalist and human being clearly pays dividends. It is an important reminder that how you conduct yourself in day-to-day life matters. In the long-term, acting decently will make a positive difference in your career.
Later in the course, Bob explains, in detail, how he built his relationship with Bill Casey. At the time, Bill started talking more candidly to Bob, he was the CIA director. Over the years, he has helped Woodward to research numerous important stories.
Student critique of Woodward’s interview with Obama
Woodward 2nd case study video is a far more nuanced session than the earlier one about Trump. The more experienced you are as a journalist the more you will benefit from it. Here are some of the questions that were asked and answered in this section of the course.
- Why did you send Obama a list of questions before interviewing him?
- Why do you tell Obama that you are going to publish something during the interview?
- Was this a tense interview? Did you struggle to develop a rapport with him? How do you handle the awkwardness?
How to prepare for an interview
As a journalist, you are going to have to ask awkward questions. Often, you will have to speak to people just after someone close to them has died, been arrested or convicted of a serious crime. You need to be ready for this emotional experience.
In this section, Bob also explains how to make the interviewee feel comfortable. This means choosing the right environment, being transparent and explaining the process. All of this and more are covered in full, during the course.
Doing your homework is also vital. You need to understand who you are speaking to and let them know that they have made an impression on you. Both of which will enable you to be a more effective interviewer.
This fast-paced section was a real eye-opener, for me. It made me think about how I come across to others. Plus, the value of remaining relatively passive body-language wise during an interview is something that I had not thought about at all.
The list of tips I picked up from this video is a long one. Not all of these important points are included in the workbook. So, my advice would be to make some notes as you go through this very informative video.
At some point, interviews will become contentious. Bob shows you how to avoid getting into a full-blown argument with interviewees. He provides you with simple mechanisms that will enable you to defuse most situations.
Hold your ground, be civil don’t take it personally.Bob Woodward Investigative Journalism Masterclass
The section about recognizing if someone is deliberately lying to you and how to deal with that scenario was particularly enlightening. His insight into Clinton’s communication skills was fascinating too.
What you can learn from your editor
Bob has worked for some brilliant editors. People who have taught him a lot, which is something he clearly appreciates.
How to write up and edit your story
Bob has written 18 books as well as numerous important investigative pieces and news stories. So, he easily falls into the category of a prolific writer.
He uses a lot of different techniques to enable him to write 10 pages a day. A lot of what he said really rang true for me. Through trial and error, I have slowly discovered some of the methods Bob uses. Yet he still came out with several techniques that are new to me.
The same is true of the editing process. There are lessons here that would benefit all kinds of writers.
How to publish secrets
Maintaining journalistic integrity is clearly something that is important to Bob. He believes is it important to remain objective.
You need to look at what is being said in an almost scientific way. Your aim is to uncover the truth and cover the subject in a clear and fair way.
Matters of national security need to be very carefully handled. It is important to seek counsel from your editor and legal team when dealing with stories that can have an impact on national security.
Learning from your mistakes
Refreshingly, Bob is not afraid to admit that he has made mistakes. He shares a few of them with his masterclass students and explains what he learned from each situation.
One of his most public mistakes was the “Jimmy’s World” piece, which was about an 8-year-old heroin addict. At the time, he was the Metropolitan editor for the Washington Post.
He ran the story and it won the Pulitzer Prize. Unfortunately, the story his reporter had submitted was false.
Bob points out that if, at the time, he had thought about the child and tried to find and help him the fact that the study was false would have been uncovered. The lesson he took away from that situation was to “be a human first”.
Being an investigative journalist in the age of the internet
The current working environment is difficult for journalists. Trust levels are low and the news cycle moves very fast, changing every 10 minutes.
These two facts combined make it hard to pause long enough to do the necessary research to uncover the truth. Plus, even when you do manage to do this, you have to be extra careful about how you present your findings. It is all too easy to not be believed and have your story buried.
Bob explains how to adapt the way you work to deal with some of these issues. Ways to maintain your effectiveness as a journalist.
Who is this masterclass for?
This is a very interesting masterclass. It covers a lot of ground and does so in an engaging way. If you are a journalist, this course is a must. But, you do not need to be a professional writer to enjoy this fascinating masterclass.
If you would like to learn more about what masterclass.com has to offer you can do so by clicking here.