Learning from the master

 

Erik Gantt

Bob Woodward delivers the keynote address to the Wyoming Business Alliance Thursday.

On Thursday, I had the privilege of attending a question and answer session for the media with legendary journalist Bob Woodward.

In case you don't know who he is, as a young reporter, Woodward, along with Carl Bernstein, exposed the Watergate scandal and covered the ensuing political and legal turmoil that led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.

He has two Pulitzer Prizes and has authored or co-authored 12 books that have been number one in the nation for non-fiction best sellers.

Most everybody knows about "All the President's Men," which was made into a movie. How many journalists can say Robert Redford played them in a movie about a book they wrote? Only one that I know of.

Ok, now that my man crush on Mr. Woodward has been firmly established, let's get to what I learned from his visit to Cheyenne where he spoke to the Wyoming Business Alliance, college students and members of the Wyoming media.

"Realize it's a great job"

Woodward reminded journalists not to let the state of newspapers, 24-hour news channels, politics, economics or anything else turn us permanently pessimistic. What we do is inherently exciting. He asked if anyone had a boss that convened the staff and said "let's go out find something boring to write about. We are not covering 'the routine' enough." The crowd laughed.


Even in the Valley, we have plenty of news happening outside of the routine. Heck, we even had an earthquake this weekend. Personally, I need to remind myself that the routine news of the Valley, town maintenance, school events and the like, are important, but there is plenty of exciting and unusual news to report as well.

"What are the bastards doing today?"

Woodward said he wakes up many days thinking, "What are the bastards doing today?" For instance, he used the example of the energy business in Wyoming and trying to finding interesting angles on the story and how the government is affecting the trajectory of our state.

I have a hard time imagining myself getting up in the morning and pondering what the "bastards" are doing in the Valley, it's just too negative for me. But I can see myself getting better at pondering some of the harder questions of the day.

Yet another thing I will try to work harder at.

"Truth at night,

lies during the day"

Woodward asked the group of journalists if they remembered when he and Carl Bernstein got their best information during the Watergate scandal. It was at night; usually at the end of a long work day. Woodward told the crowd that if you want to be better at your job, work harder.

There are days when this is not really what I want to hear. Some days I wish the news would just plop down in my lap and snuggle up for a cozy ride into great journalism. That just doesn't happen.

We put in some seriously long days here at the Sun. Election day is a perfect example. We got here early in the morning and had the final election results at 10:30 p.m. Through a team effort we were able to have the results in the next day's paper, but those days do wear on you.

In the end, I think it is worth it, but I have to be honest. I am not a young reporter at the Washington Post and I don't think I will be putting in years of 80-hour weeks to ramp up my career in journalism.

"Everyone has a box

in the attic and you don't get there in the first interview"

Woodward used this analogy to say that persistence gets a reporter the meat of the story. Especially when dealing with difficult topics, it takes time to win the confidence of your sources.

From my limited experience, here in the Valley that can mean years of trustworthy actions on my part so the people bringing me stories or are my source of information trust me.

I will not be looking to physically climb into anybody's attic and dig through the boxes, but I do hope that people will trust me to do the right thing with the information they give me.

Sometimes that means reflecting on a situation long enough to determine the motives of my sources and sometimes that means going forward with a story that will not make me popular.

I am truly thankful for the short "master class" I was able to take with Mr. Woodward. I have a long way to go before I can approach his level of journalism, but I am content to have a vision of what to strive for.

 

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