| Home | Tracy Wood, editor, Ms. Magazine -- August 2002
September 18, 2014

Tracy Wood is editor of Ms. Magazine. Prior to Ms., Wood was investigations editor for the Orange County Register, where she led a team that produced the groundbreaking series, the "Body Brokers," an expose of the sale of human body parts. Wood worked as an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times for more than 15 years, and was a combat correspondent in Vietnam for United Press International. In 2000, Wood was named 'Los Angeles Print Journalist of the Year' by the Society for Professional Journalists. She is co-author of "War Torn: Stories of War from the Women Reporters Who Covered Vietnam." Wood was recently hired to revive Ms., which plans to publish bimonthly in 2003. She spoke with about her strategy. A lot has changed since the women's movement in the 1970s. Many of the ideas that were revolutionary back then are now mainstream. How will Ms. strike a chord with women today?

Tracy Wood: You're right. Just getting certain jobs was the goal in the early seventies. Now the goal is getting equal pay for these jobs. Women still make on average a tremendous amount less than men on average. So if you're looking right off the bat, it's a pocketbook issue. Equal pay is as relevant today as it ever was unfortunately. I'd like to say it isn't, but it is. Anything that involves equality, if you just look at both sides and say, "Are women equal in these things?" That's where you're going to find people who know how relevant Ms. is today.

Workplace issues, of course, all over the place. Certain kinds of social issues that affect women and men. Someone has to take the lead in doing something about child care, for instance. Men care just as much as women do about their children. Yet I think any parent who works has been put in a bind where it's 5 o'clock and they have to pick up their kid at child care. It doesn't matter if it's the woman or the man. All of a sudden there's a crisis and they're stuck at work and you just see this panic-stricken look on their face. They're torn between two awful choices. That just has not been addressed. People who want to keep women down will say women shouldn't work. But that's not the answer. The answer is fix the workplace so that no parent is in that terrible position. How does Ms. plan to reach out to younger women?

Tracy Wood: That's an assumption that people who don't read Ms. make. The actual subscription demographics for Ms. has a high percentage of college students. Extremely high. Ms. has a very unusual subscription base overall. Most magazines are geared toward a certain age group. When they did the analysis of Ms. demographics they found that it was almost equally spread among young women, women in the middle and older women, which is almost unheard of. So the problem really isn't reaching out to any age group. It's reaching more people in all age groups. How are you going to do that?

Tracy Wood: That's the reason I'm here. The big thing is investigations. Ms. has always had this very strong history of doing really relevant, strong, thorough investigations. I think that's one of things people read it for. That's one of the reasons it's so popular. That's one of the things we're going to be concentrating on. That and global issues. All you have to do is look at the Taliban. I don't really have to say more about what's happened to women around the world, except that on a smaller scale, it's happening in a lot of places and you need a voice that will stand up to that. What kind of investigative pieces is Ms. pursuing?

Tracy Wood: Investigations take a while to crank up so don't look for one in the first couple of issues. I'm not going to run through the whole story list, but I don't think it would surprise anyone that one of the topics is world slavery as a whole. I think Ms. has an obligation to just be right on top of that. I think that we're going to be doing a lot of investigations that nobody would take on, not the kind that has us saying, "Gee, we have to hurry up and get this in before anybody else does." They aren't going to even think of doing this kind of investigation. Some of those are going to be very long-term. You have a lot of experience overseas. Will this affect Ms.'s coverage?

Tracy Wood: I hope so. We're going to hire a global editor. I have not picked anyone yet. We're really trying to find a perfect person for that slot. It does not have to be somebody based here in Los Angeles. It can be somebody based anywhere in the world given the way communications go now. I'm taking my time on that to find somebody really great. How is Ms. different from mainstream women's magazines like Glamour, Vogue and Martha Stewart for instance?

Tracy Wood: Well, Ms. has never been in those categories. Recipes and such, those are nice things, but Ms. does in-depth articles. They just don't do that. It's just a whole different kind of magazine. We don't do fashion and diets. We don't have anorexic models on the pages. Ms. is for healthy, well-adjusted women who think. Is it true the first issue of Ms. in October will not contain any commercial ads? If so, why not? Is this a feasible business model?

Tracy Wood: Yes, it's true that there will be no commercial ads. The ads that are in there are from non-profits that tend to support the same sorts of issues that Ms. does. That's new and not new. Before that, in the nineties, Ms. didn't take any ads - period. When they started, they did take ads. When you look at the very early editions, the companies that wanted to advertise, wanted to reach women readers were cigarettes, liquor. Those were the standard ones. Well that's sort of a conflicting message to be sending out. So they made a decision in the late 1980s or early 90s not to take any ads at all, and they made money not taking any ads. Now we're taking them from non-profits. Financially that's not going to hurt. We'll just see what it does do. You come from a newspaper background having worked at the Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register. How do you feel working for a magazine?

Tracy Wood: It's different. Of course the speed is different. The fact that you're writing things that aren't going to appear for weeks makes my eyes wild. That's the big difference for me. That's where my challenge has been. Why did you take this job?

Tracy Wood: It's a great job. Can you imagine being offered the chance to do this kind of journalism, investigations, which is what I do, during a time when unfortunately an awful lot of traditional news organizations, including my own former newspapers, are cutting back on this stuff. Then you get someone who wants to go forward with it. Besides it's a news tradition. I've always like Ms. but I never knew how truly well-liked it was until I took this job. It's amazing. It's a nice friend. It really makes me happy. Are you concerned about the magazine's financial health?

Tracy Wood: You always have to worry about money and frankly over the last few years, everybody has been worried about money. All you have to do is look at newspapers around the country and all the cutbacks they've been making. It's not a pretty picture anywhere. The magazine is healthy. Our goal is to make it healthier and healthier. I think we can. It is different working in a non-profit environment, being concerned about costs. But you're always working within a budget. Everywhere I've worked, I've always had a budget. I don't see that as being the deciding thing. We're certainly not lavish. We're not going to be throwing money around. But I think we're certainly healthy enough to give our readers some very interesting journalism. Do you see Ms. as sort of the "Mother Jones" of women's issues?

Tracy Wood: I think that's a fair comparison. It's similar to what Mother Jones does. What will be your biggest challenge?

Tracy Wood: There are so many investigations out there to do that having issues of substance won't be a problem at all. I'm hoping that we can attract the kind of freelance writers who can really handle these well. We're just in the infancy of that. I'm going into it very optimistically. But I think that's one of the unknowns is getting good freelancers. There are such good ones out there. That's what makes me optimistic.

Copyright © 2002 All rights reserved.

Other interviews:
  • Mike Hoyt, executive editor, Columbia Journalism Review, July 2002
  • Louis Wiley, executive editor, PBS 'Frontline,' May/June 2002
  • John Sasaki, reporter, KTVU-TV (FOX), March/April 2002
  • Dan Fost, reporter, San Francisco Chronicle, February 2002
  • Carol Guzy, photographer, The Washington Post, January 2002
  • Roger Cohn, editor-in-chief, Mother Jones Magazine, December 2001
  • Mike Luckovich, cartoonist, Atlanta Journal-Constitution -- November 2001
  • Lisa Chamberlain, editor-in-chief, Cleveland Free Times -- October 2001
  • Ben Fong-Torres, former reporter and editor, Rolling Stone magazine -- October 2001
  • Raul Ramirez, news director, KQED Radio -- September 2001
  • James Daly, former founder and editor, Business 2.0 Magazine -- August 2001
  • James Fallows, correspondent, The Atlantic Monthly -- July 2001
  • David Ignatius, executive editor, International Herald Tribune -- July 2001
  • David Talbot, founder and editor, -- June 2001
  • Ed Fouhy, former CBS, ABC and NBC news executive -- June 2001
  • Linda Cohn, anchor/reporter, ESPN -- May 2001
  • Sol Levine, former producer, CNN -- April 2001
  • Charlie LeDuff, reporter, New York Times -- March 2001
  • Pierre Thomas, correspondent, ABC News -- March 2001
  • Gene Roberts, former managing editor, New York Times -- February 2001
  • Sydnie Kohara, anchor, -- January 2001
  • Lowell Bergman, former producer, 60 Minutes -- January 2001
  • Joie Chen, anchor, CNN -- December 2000
  • David Plotz, Washington Bureau Chief, -- November 2000
  • Christopher John Farley, senior writer and pop music critic, Time Magazine -- October 2000
  • Bob Edwards, news anchor, National Public Radio -- October 2000
  • Sharon Epperson, CNBC correspondent -- September 2000
  • David Maraniss, reporter, The Washington Post -- April 2000
  • Wolf Blitzer, anchor, CNN -- March 2000