What does it really take to become an investigative journalist? Is chasing a story really worth the risk? Or is it really just a death wish?
Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) in All The President’s Men never cared for the threats to their lives but instead fully immersed themselves in a story that not only touches public interest but also opens an opportunity to topple the most powerful man in the United Stated of America — President Nixon.
‘Grab them by the balls’
Fifteen minutes into the film, Harry Rosenfeld, The Washington Post’s editor, said to Woodward “If you got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.” Woodward paused for a while, maybe digesting the thought of grabbing something by the balls or just simply struck by passion and inspiration to dig deeper into his story.
What struck me the most is that this quote is somewhat obscene to take in literally but it holds a profound meaning that correlates to an investigative journalists’ technique and strategy in chasing and completing a story. One must have the guts to grab something by the balls when the chance comes up before it is too late.
What Woodward and Bernstein did was just like that — grabbed the entire ballsack of the Watergate scandal.
What really are the qualities of an investigative journalist?
It is said that a great investigative journalist must have certain qualities that are essential in this line of work. One must have curiosity and this was definitely not lacking in Woodward and Bernstein’s veins. When Woodward was assigned to a story which was regarded as unimportant at first — the Watergate burglary — his curiosity was his driving force. His skepticism drew him to ask questions, questions that are seemingly harmless at first but provoked quite a few individuals that led to Woodward unveiling a much bigger picture in the process.
Works well with others
When Bernstein, who had an equal interest in the case, was partnered with Woodward, they developed a team spirit that had overtaken the reluctancy they had at first. Although they had several disagreements with the whole investigation, their reporting styles and data gathering methods seemed to work well.
It is worth mentioning that when one of them had acquired leads or sources or tips, they would immediately tell their partner. That shows the teamwork and trust they put into each other in chasing this story.
Also, the two reporters had the natural sense of initiative by following the angle of the story that somehow is the “road less travelled.”
When their editors seemed to stop at the news story which only scratched the surface, the duo had already gone through various sources that are essential to the discovery of a larger investigation. Woodward and Bernstein, despite the lack of interest from the newsroom, had the initiative to do researches, investigate, and connect the dots on their own.
In addition, they also exhibited the quality of flexibility that comes handy when dealing with sourcing and information gathering. It is noticeable that Bernstein is a pro at this game of cat and mouse. Sources in this investigation are unsurprisingly reluctant, evasive and at times hostile. Bernstein showed flexibility by sweet-talking sources to provide confidential but important information.
Practices ethical journalism
Furthermore, it is commendable that despite their thirst for information, they never forgot to practice fairness and strong ethics. They assured sources that they would not force them to do something that they’re not comfortable with. As a result, maybe because they got in the source’s good graces, they obtained the information they needed.
However, these aforementioned skills alone would not hold up in investigative journalism without courage. Becoming a journalist automatically entails danger and threats.
Woodward and Bernstein’s involvement in the investigation of the national scandal is enough to make them fear for their lives. It takes a lot of guts to chase a story that aims to unveil a propaganda that involves the powerful people in the government. Despite all of the risks, it never crossed their minds to back down from the investigation.
But, at the end of the day, an investigative journalist will become obsolete if he does not possess the most important quality a journalist must have — passion.
It is apparent in the characters of Woodward and Bernstein that their passion for their craft is overflowing. An image of them hanging back in the newsroom late at night just to complete their story is a testament of how passionate they are. They are literally the slaves of the story and will not rest until they get what they want. No matter who their sources are, they tackle them without fear. Connecting the dots with logic and critical thinking is their hobby. They are passionate journalists, loving what they do, even if they become frustrated sometimes.
Would they sort through thousands of library cards to no avail if they were not passionate? No. Would they hunt down a long list of sources one by one, knocking on their doors, if they did not like what they were doing? No. They were passionate, driven, and motivated to unveil the truth.
Reaping the fruits of hard work
Because of Woodward and Bernstein’s well-researched, strong, and provocative news story, an unjust presidency was put to a stop. Because of a string of sentences printed on a sheet of paper, corruption was unveiled to the public. Political propagandas were revealed. Powerful men were toppled from their positions, including President Nixon. It may seem to many that a journalist could either bring to light the truth or be a devil’s advocate. But journalism is profound, complex, and it requires a lot of ball grabbing in chasing and completing the story.
So, is investigative journalism worth the risk?
Reel and real life Woodward and Bernstein say yes.
Gabriela Alexandra, or better known as Alex, graduated from Bicol University with a degree in journalism. She is now navigating the world of adulthood and taking much bigger leaps in life.