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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bob Woodword : "The world requires high quality, probing journalism"



Woodward, who knows Eric Schmidt, said the Google CEO’s tombstone should say, “I killed newspapers.”

“There’s going to be something we’re going to miss in journalism that will be very regrettable. I hope the young people who have developed Facebook and Google will say, ‘We need to fix the information system and we need to get information to people that’s well-researched and investigated.’ ”

Search engines, he said, “are not going to have meaning if we have a screwed up information system.”

On Watergate, Deep Throat and hidden information

“It’s odd that the scandal got called Watergate. It turned out the secret code word for the operation was ‘gemstone,’ but we didn’t know that for a long time.” Woodward said. If they had, the suffix for big breaking stories would have been “stone,” like “Monicastone,” instead of “Monicagate.”

“The really important information on Watergate or any of these stories was not on the Internet. You could not find out about Bill Clinton’s relationship with Monica on the Internet until the news broke, and then you could, but the kind of important confidential human sources don’t go on the Internet and say, ‘Reporters, ask me questions.’ ”

Mark Felt, who was Deep Throat, didn’t have a Facebook account. He wouldn’t have had one. The news of Watergate came from human beings who were reluctant to talk. And the information was not on the Internet. You talk to college students and they say, ‘Instead of two years before Nixon resigned, it would have happened in a week.’ And I say, ‘Why?’ And they say, ‘Because, people would have gone to the Internet and found it.’ But I say, ‘It wasn’t there. Even if there was an Internet, the information would not be available.’ ”

“So much is hidden. I get up in the morning and I ask the question: ‘What are the bastards hiding?’ Not as a cynical reporter, but as a realistic reporter. People are always hiding things.”

Gaining access to sources
“You get the truth at night, the lies during the day,” Woodward said.
The perfect time to visit someone, he told students, is after 8 p.m. “They’ve eaten. And if they’re home, they probably haven’t gone to bed.”

“You gather pieces of data and try to get the whole story, and then once you have information, the power is in the information. You say, ‘I know what happened on the meeting on the 17th; the CIA director said the following. …”

“I have the time. I don’t carry a partisan flag. … People have accused me as being a liberal, a conservative. You know what the truth is? I don’t really have them, simply because I’ve seen true beliefs from the left, the right, the center, and sometimes true belief gets in the way of facts.” If he were teaching a class in journalism, he’d teach empiricism, he said.

Some of the Post staffers used to have “FAA” stickers on their computers, Woodward said. That stood for Focus, Act Aggressive. “If you’ve civil about it, and persistent, you can go to the limit with people. Don’t be rude or obtrusive.”

Using anonymous sources

“There has always been doubt about unnamed sources, and there should be,” Woodward said. “But you’re not going to sit down with people who are in sensitive positions and say ‘I’d like to talk on the record.’
They’ll say, ‘Were you born yesterday?’ It just is not going to happen. That puts pressure on the reporter or author to make sure [the information] is right and validate it and be very careful.”

“There is a validation that takes place over time. The anonymity tends to maybe not evaporate — that’s too self-serving — but it goes to the background.”

“We have the housing bubble and the dot.com bubble, and in journalism I think we have a news bubble.
“I think there’s too much emphasis on speed and feeding the impatience people have. … In many ways, journalism is not often enough up to the task of dealing with the dangerous and fragile nature of the world, or the community, or anything you might try to understand.”
The world requires “high quality, probing journalism. And there’s just been not enough of it.”

Long-form journalism and books
“Some people who write books now talk about self-publishing and selling it on Amazon,” said Woodward, who believes the future of long-form journalism lies in nonfiction books, not in newspapers or online.
When writing books, Woodward works with two people who help him get documents, transcribe notes, review drafts and more. “I could not do it without them,” he said. “Reporters who are working on serious subjects … should have help. It provides discipline.”

A fan of the iPad, but not social media

Woodward, whose number is listed in the telephone book, said, “I tell people, ‘I hope I’m the most the accessible person around.’ ”

Still, he doesn’t use Twitter, and though he has a Facebook page, his assistants maintain it for him. “All the blogs and Twitter and Facebook are all part of a conversation and a discussion, and by and large I think it’s good and it’s healthy. People will sort out the information they’re going to use and need. But I’m not sure that being connected every minute is a good thing.”

Bob Woodword talks to Mallary Jean Tenore in Poynter. More Here

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