Bob Woodward spoke at Rutgers today and shared several stories from his long and distingushed career in journalism. As one would expect, his comments and insight were educational, entertaining and thought-provoking. But perhaps the most valuable piece of information he relayed to an audience that included manhy college students preparing for careers in journalism was the value and importance of getting out of the office to learn and confirm facts firsthand.
Before he broke the Watergate story with Carl Bernstein, Woodward wrote a story about a popular Washington, D.C., hotel coffee shop that was being closed for health violations, and he relied upon a city Health Department report for his information. Only after a city editor told him to get out of the office and go to the coffee shop himself did he learn that although the coffee shop shared the same name as the hotel, it was not located there — as he had written in his story. Fortunately, he had time to correct the error before the paper went to press and he avoided an error that could have derailed his career.
More than 30 years later, the lesson Woodward learned is still a valuable one, especially in today’s internet environment when information is readily available, but not always confirmable.