Tracy Wood, a hard-charging reporter who broke through the male-dominated press corps to cover the Vietnam War and later helped The Times win a Pulitzer for its coverage of the L.A. riots, has died at her home in Fullerton.
Wood, who had been living with cancer, died March 12 from complications of the disease, her brother Scott said. She was 76.
A wartime correspondent, a hardened investigative reporter and a nurturing editor later in life, Wood had a long career as a journalist, from her first stint as a reporter at City News Service in Los Angeles to her pioneering efforts as a founding member of the editorial staff at the Voice of OC, a nonprofit digital news startup.
In between, she covered conflict abroad, racial tensions in intercity Los Angeles and looked into suspect politicians and corrupt career bureaucrats.
“Few reporters could get the respect of both rival reporters and politicians, but that was Tracy,” said Gustavo Arellano, a Times staff writer who competed with Wood as editor of the OC Weekly.
“She was tough and fair, pioneering but always working — everything a reporter should ever want to be.”
Born Aug. 21, 1943 in Monmouth Junction, N.J., Wood attended the University of Missouri before landing in L.A. as a cub reporter at City News Service and then United Press International, first working at the wire service’s Sacramento bureau and then in New York.
Times political columnist George Skelton, who was Wood’s editor in Sacramento, recalled the young reporter demanding to be allowed to enter a swanky all-male club frequented by lobbyists and political heavyweights to cover a speech by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan.
Turned away at the door, Wood refused to leave the Sutter Club and instead called Skelton, who in return called Reagan’s press secretary and told him that UPI, which fed stories to hundreds of media outlets at the time, would refuse to cover the event unless Wood was allowed inside.
Stuck, the club relented.
“Tracy could dig out any story,” Skelton said. “I’ve never worked with a better reporter.”
Over the objections of her editors in New York and counter to the prevailing media mindset that only men should be on the front lines during wartime, Wood landed in Saigon in 1972 as the war was grinding on.
Wood was there when American prisoners were released in 1974 and a year earlier had watched as future Sen. John McCain was released from the Hanoi Hilton, used by the North Vietnamese to house, torture and interrogate captured servicemen.
Her experiences were later chronicled in “War Torn,” a compilation of stories from women who covered the war.
Wood later worked in the UPI’s Hong Kong bureau before coming to The Times, where she worked in Los Angeles and Orange County. She shared in the paper’s Pulitzer in 1993 for its coverage of the riots following the acquittal of four officers charged in the beating of Rodney King.
Later, she helped lead the Orange County Register’s investigative team and then helped launch the Voice of OC, leading investigative efforts and civic coverage.
“Tracy was the toughest journalist I’ve ever known,” said Norberto Santana Jr., publisher and editor in chief of the news site. “She really took seriously a reporter’s job to protect our freedoms at home, and get all sides of a story, saw it as an extension of what so many men and women died to protect on distant battlefields.”
Wood is survived by her brother.