LOS ANGELES (WOMENSENEWS)–Tracy Wood remembers her aspirations as a young girl growing up in the small town of Fanwood, N.J. Having no interest in becoming a nurse or a firefighter, she dreamed of being a journalist.
Wood’s desire was so strong that her parents gave her a printing set in third grade. She left college after three years to pursue journalism, first for the City News Service in Los Angeles and then for the wire service, United Press International.
“UPI was considering sending me to Vietnam when I heard one of the top executives say he didn’t believe women should cover wars,” Wood remembers. She describes it as “well-meaning men in positions of authority who honestly believed it was more important to protect women from risks rather than encourage them to reach for the stars.”
Neither the fear of flying, a heart murmur, nor the lack of military experience would stop her. She literally wouldn’t leave her boss’ office unless they sent her.
Tracy is featured in the recently published “War Torn: Stories of War from the Women Reporters Who Covered Vietnam,” a collection of candid observations by nine reporters who describe their professional and personal lives during the conflict. Her chapter, “Spies, Lovers and Prisoners of War,” recalls the hard-learned lessons of her time there.
(The other authors are: Tad Bartimus, Denby Fawcett, Jurate Kazickas, Edith Lederer, Ann Bryan Mariano, Anne Morrissy Merick, Laura Palmer and Kate Webb.)
After serving as acting bureau chief for UPI in Cambodia, news editor in Hong Kong/Macao, and foreign correspondent throughout Asia, Wood knew that she wanted to come home. Taking the skills she learned there to the Los Angeles Times, she became an investigative reporter, remaining for 17 years. The next stop was the Orange County Register, where she was appointed investigations editor.
‘You Would Have to Be Nuts’
She now finds herself the new editor in chief of Ms. Magazine, landing the job she’s been working towards all her life.
“You’d have to be nuts not to want this job,” she says. “When I found out Ms. was moving from New York to Los Angeles and the position was open, I jumped at the opportunity.”
One of only a handful of editors in the history of the 30-year-old magazine, Wood was brought in to give the publication a newsier edge as well as to develop investigative stories that make headlines. Admirers say her expertise in tough, competitive journalism makes her a perfect fit.
“Tracy Wood’s leadership will allow Ms. to maximize its unique advantage as a reader-supported magazine, with no pressure from advertisers,” says Gloria Steinem, co-founder of Ms. and a consulting editor. “It can investigate the subjects that no traditional women’s magazines can pursue.”
Some observers within the publishing industry say that Wood may lack the experience needed to run the magazine in its new incarnation. Although she always saw herself working in the newspaper business, she says guiding a magazine will be no different or more difficult because the final product is the same.
“Good journalism is good journalism and that’s what I want,” Wood says emphatically.
Relaunched Ms. Due in March
Wood says she will use her investigative tenacity to give Ms. a new direction while expanding the magazine’s approach to traditional feminist issues. Their annual “Women of the Year” issue will come out later this year. The projected fall launch of the new Ms. has been delayed until March to give the magazine more time to get it ready. Bimonthly publications will follow.
“Ms. has made a stunning hire,” says Bob Page, UPI’s former vice president for Asia who has known Wood for 30 years. “The magazine will even be better than in the past because Tracy is a pro’s pro.”
Former Associated Press competitor and co-author Tad Bartimus agrees that the magazine is in great hands with Wood, who she says will find a new younger and more powerful audience. Bartimus says her colleague is not one to be suckered or seduced by fads or peer pressure–a fact that makes Bartimus confident her colleague will have a clear and broader vision for a magazine that has seen its readership decline over the years.
The magazine’s largest paid circulation was reported to be 500,000 in 1976. Three years later it began to publish as a nonprofit. Early on it faced philosophical differences with its advertisers. After being sold twice in the eighties, it was launched again in 1990, ad-free and supported by its readers. It went through another change of ownership in the mid-1990s that failed and publication was halted in 1998.
To rescue the magazine, Steinem and a group of investors bought Ms., relaunching in 1999. They then sold it to the Feminist Majority Foundation in 2001. Newsstand and subscription circulation is currently about 110,000 with the publishing of two recent retrospective issues. Reportedly close to breaking even, Ms. will include 15 ad pages that are nonprofit or mission related in the upcoming one hundred page magazine.
Woods to Expand Coverage of Global Issues
“The biggest challenge will be to meet the expectations of those who are subscribers because Ms. has such a fabulous reputation,” says Wood. “My biggest fear is of doing anything that would make it less than it was before.”
Wood is intent on expanding the coverage of worldwide women’s issues by hiring a global editor, developing stories on health care and the environment, and getting out information on how readers can take action. New fiction writers, humor and media reviews are also in the mix.
Although serious feminist issues will be the backbone of the new Ms., Wood thinks the word feminism has been the victim of “battered word syndrome.” Her definition of feminism is short and simple.
“All it means is political, economic and social equality for women,” Wood says. “I don’t care if people want to use the word or not because it’s the underlying principles of equality and the right of women to choose that are critical.”
Pamela Burke is a television producer and freelance writer living in Los Angeles.
For more information:
war torn–Stories of War by the Women
Who Reported the Vietnam War: