Ben Woods

Journalist/Photographer/Expedition Canoeist

Young Explorer Grantee

Picture of canoeists standing on a frozen lake

Photograph by Ben Woods

Picture of Ben Woods

Photograph by Kyle Terry

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

A fighter pilot

How did you get started in your field of work?

Entirely by accident. After graduating college with a degree in political science, I moved to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to volunteer for an urban housing organization for six months while I applied to graduate schools in the U.S. But I fell in love with Cambodia and with photography, and decided to give photojournalism a solid try. I stayed in Phnom Penh and started shooting for Cambodia-based news magazines as a freelancer. Then, on the recommendation of my mentor at the time—a BBC correspondent based in the region—I applied for a job as a copy editor at The Cambodia Daily, the oldest English-language daily newspaper in the country, and the most respected. After a few months, I was made a reporter. I currently serve as executive editor.

What inspires you to dedicate your life to journalism?

As a journalist, my inspiration comes from those rare instances when my reporting, and that of my staff, has a positive effect on the outcome of events—when articles we publish prompt public debate, investigations, and arrests.

What's a normal day like for you?

On a normal day, I spend about 12 hours in the newsroom. The morning and afternoon pass quickly. I work with the reporters to brainstorm and shape stories; assign photographers to cover events throughout the capital and coordinate with freelance shooters in the provinces; and attempt to make headway on my own investigations.

From about 6 p.m. to midnight, the other editors and I consume large quantities of black coffee and greasy food and comb through the 10-20 news stories, reviews, analyses, op-eds and letters to the editor that will be printed in the next day's edition.

What's been your favorite experience in the field? The most challenging?

My favorite experience was also the most challenging: pulling a canoe up Nunavut's Aqiliniq Hills [in Canada] while on the 2013 Arctic expedition, and being part of the first group to document the shallow stream that made the feat possible. The stream connects Beverly Lake to the headwaters of the Morse River and is just inches deep in parts. For most of a week, the six of us waded upstream in the freezing current, repeatedly unsuctioning our canoes (laden with 100-pound packs carrying half of our 70-day food stores) from the sandy bottom and sliding them forward, gaining hundreds of feet in elevation. The physical difficulty was compounded by the anxiety of not knowing what was around each bend, of having no logs or detailed maps to rely on. But the thrill of reaching the top of the stream made the exertion and worry worth it.

What are your other passions?

Besides those I'm lucky enough to pursue through my work—reading, writing, and photography—I'm rarely happier than when bouncing down a long set of white water in a canoe or ripping through the Cambodian countryside on a dirt bike.

Woods's site


In Their Words

I'm rarely happier than when bouncing down a long set of white water in a canoe or ripping through the Cambodian countryside on a dirt bike.

—Ben Woods

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