David Wood, JOUR ’70, knows war.
He’s been a reporter among American soldiers for years and had seen first hand how improvised explosive devices can rip apart a body in an instant.
But what he never knew was what happened next. What happened after the dust settled and the medical helicopter sped the victim to safety? Did he die? If he lived, what was his life like?
These were questions he wanted to answer soon after being hired at The Huffington Post in February 2011. Eight months later, he filed his 10-part series called “Beyond the Battlefield,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.
“Neither the editors nor I realized how long this would take to do,” Wood said.
The reporting process was intense. He had to track down injured veterans interested in telling their story. Then he had to get to know them on a deep level, uncovering their darkest secrets and the inner struggles of those who care for them. He spent countless hours with each subject and their families. Wood also researched military records that documented the incidents and reached out to the doctors who saved the soldiers’ lives.
Wood discovered that the advancement of medical skills and technology in the armed forces has created a much larger percentage of people who survive their injuries and must live with wounds more severe than prior generations.
“Military medicine has gotten so good that they save nearly everybody,” Wood said.
The stories are much more about the caretakers at home than Wood initially imagined – the young wives and mothers “who are thrust into this situation with no warning or no training.” Their new lives are filled with dressing changes and injections.
It’s the personalities that shine through his stories that Wood thinks made the series so successful. “It’s a series of fairly complicated stories in very personal terms… I was able to write so intimately about painful parts of their lives.”
Wood expects The Huffington Post, once known primarily as a news aggregator, to produce more and more original journalism in the coming years. And he’s happy to be along for the ride.
“I have never really felt threatened by digital journalism,” he said. “I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for more creative journalism (to thrive).”
He said the reporting skills he used for “Beyond the Battlefield” were the same ones he used early in his career and at The Washington Post; skills he’s happy to see among his younger colleagues, too, like asking careful questions, going directly to sources and double-checking every fact.
Wood has reached a high point in his career with the Pulitzer win, but he’s looking forward to the next great story.
“There’s so much more to do,” he said. “This job is so much fun that I can’t imagine doing anything else.”