Building upon the articles of incorporation and bylaws filed in North Carolina with help from Wake Forest University of Law, The War Horse became a fiscally sponsored nonprofit and further developed its business model at the Entrepreneurial Bootcamp for Veterans at St. Joseph’s University, and led in entrepreneurship with Bunker Labs.
Our crowdfunding campaign was named Project of the Day and Project We Love by the Kickstarter team. To support our campaign, we received book donations from award-winning journalists such as Tom Ricks, Steve Coll, Bing West, and many others. Our efforts were featured on Military.com, Huffington Post, The Daily News, Nieman Reports, Fishbowl New York, Public Radio East, and Foreign Policy Magazine.
More than 500 generous donors helped The War Horse come alive by donating $53,000, and we proudly added our Initial Donors List to our website. “If we don’t remember where we started, we will never know where we are going,” wrote Thomas Brennan, founder of The War Horse.
Source: Our supporters >
In June, we published our first Killed in Action profile about the family of Staff Sergeant Javier Ortiz Rivera, a Marine who was killed in Afghanistan in 2011. The multimedia feature explored the ripple effect of trauma one combat death creates within a military unit and among family members at home.
In November, The War Horse was given unprecedented access to document the recovery of the youngest living Medal of Honor recipient, Kyle Carpenter. By compiling doctors’ records, family photos, and videos, our team created an intimate retelling of his grueling road to recovery. “The story was raw, emotionally charged, and captivating, just like my recovery,” said Kyle about our reporting. “I’ve never seen my story told with such detail and accuracy. I’ve never read my own story as if I didn’t know the end but with this I did. I’ll be forever thankful and appreciative that I have this story to help share my journey.”
TWH founder was selected to attend the Atlantic Council Nonprofit Leadership Fellowship. The weeklong professional development seminar ended with The War Horse named the recipient of the Nonprofit Leadership Award for business innovation.
The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma is a resource center and global network of journalists, journalism educators, and health professionals dedicated to improving media coverage of trauma, conflict, and tragedy. The Ochberg Fellowship is a seminar that brings together journalists from around the world who wish to deepen their knowledge of trauma and improve coverage of violence, conflict, and tragedy.
To increase our impact and network of supporters, we welcomed award-winning journalists Karen Stabiner, Bruce Shapiro, Robert Rosenthal, and others to our advisory council. TWH founder spoke at the annual Investigative Editors and Reporters Annual Conference, Columbia University, and University of Missouri Graduate Schools of Journalism, and to middle schoolers at The Fessenden School.
The War Horse’s exclusive investigation into Marines United revealed pandemic online sexual violence and harassment, and led to congressional and federal investigations. Our reporting led to changes in military law and sparked global debate on gender and non-consensual pornography, giving voice to countless survivors of sexual exploitation and assault.
In addition to the Times, we were also featured on PBS NewsHour, NBC Nightly News, and every major news outlet around the world. Within days of us publishing our story, the secretary of defense, commandant of the Marine Corps, and members of Congress rebuked the Marines who were involved and vowed to take action to hold both service members and veterans accountable.
Our team welcomed 15 veterans and military spouses to Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism for our pilot writing seminar. Events included a guided tour of the 9/11 Memorial Museum, and guest speakers included Steve Coll, Helen Benedict, Karen Stabiner, Phil Klay, and many others.
Founder Thomas Brennan was invited to speak during the Logan Symposium at U.C. Berkeley. The War Horse received its first foundation commitments from Jonathan Logan Family and the Reva and David Logan Foundations.
In addition to our editorial director being recognized for her contributions to the veteran community, The War Horse team was invited to join a yearlong cohort of single-subject newsrooms at the Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics and Public Policy designed to share best practices and challenges in nonprofit media.
“The War Horse reaches across the civil-military divide and shows the public the emotional landscape of the people who must bear the burdens of America’s longest war, and forces them to consider the human consequences of warfare.”
— Drew Pham, Army Veteran and War Horse Writer
Awarded Excellence in Features Journalism Award. Described by Cullen Murphy, the Editor-at-Large of Vanity Fair, as a story they’re “proud to have run. … It exemplifies the highest values both of journalism and of national service.” Judges for the Society for Features Journalism described our short documentary as “top-notch, weaving together the voices, still photography.”
Photo credit: Eliot Dudik
During our first 18 months of publication, we sparked congressional inquiry, changed military law, and empowered thousands of survivors of sex crimes in the military and veteran community. Because of The War Horse’s exclusive investigation, a bill to criminalize the sharing of non-consensual images was unanimously passed by the House of Representatives.
View our interactive timeline exploring Marines United here.
In May, during the HillVets 2017 event, The War Horse debuted a short documentary exploring the impacts of government shutdowns on Gold Star families. HillVets advisory board chair and former Defense Secretary and Vietnam veteran Chuck Hagel commented about the impact and timeliness of our reporting:
“This is a defining time in our history and our world, and until our society—our leaders—can come together enough to respect each other with at least a modicum of civility and don’t do a dumb thing like shut the government down to cause that type of damage—that kind of unforgivable sorrow—we can do better than that. We’re a better country than that. … Thank you for showing that.”
Our team granted exclusive access to Esquire to share the story of how The War Horse brought the Marines United scandal to light and held the military’s most senior leaders accountable for a rampant culture of sexual violence in uniform. “In what one observer called ‘weaponized’ sexual harassment, members of a Facebook group called Marines United crowdsourced thousands of images of hundreds of naked servicewomen, including selfies, creepshots, and intimate photos.”
Founder Thomas Brennan attended fellowship at the Center for a New American Security. He also spoke about the newsroom during events at the Carey Institute for Global Good, Columbia University, The Eddie Adams Workshop, and The Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale.
In February, our team welcomed 12 women veterans to Boulder Crest Retreat for our second writing seminar. The event was hosted in partnership with Starbucks and Cohen Veterans Network, and with support from Korn Ferry and The Washington Post. Guest speakers included Dana Priest, Karen Stabiner, Robert Rosenthal, and many others.
In order to forge a resilient and sustainable newsroom, The War Horse continued to welcome advisors with an array of backgrounds ranging from investigative reporting to documentary film, whistleblower protection, and the issues impacting military families. In 2018, we welcomed Dana Priest, Tom Jennings, and others to help us increase our impact across the landscape of national security.
As a result of our Marines United scandal, “Senior leaders in the Corps vowed to punish those involved and to root out a culture of misogyny revealed by the scandal.” One year later, “Questions remain on whether the Marines can police themselves and whether they have actually put a stop to this behavior.” Our reporting on sexual violence in uniform will continue.
Founder Discusses the Impact of War at Amherst College, Team Speaks at Annual Pat Tillman Foundation Leadership Summit
In July, The War Horse team traveled to Chicago to speak about the process and power of investigative journalism at an annual leadership event for veterans and military spouses from across health care, business, technology, and social impact fields.
“The War Horse team continues to increase awareness and lead solutions-oriented dialogues about sexual assault, mental health, and veteran transition. I admire The War Horse’s willingness to confront the most difficult issues facing our community.”
— Killjan Anderson, former executive director of Pat Tillman Foundation
In September, Robert Rosenthal was awarded by the Society of Professional Journalists as a Fellow of the Society, the highest professional honor presented by SPJ, for extraordinary career contributions to journalism.
“Because of his leadership and unwavering support, our newsroom has the strong moral and ethical foundation on which all newsrooms should be built.”
– Thomas Brennan, Founder
In November, our team welcomed 12 War Horse Fellows to our Writing Seminar for Military Spouses at The Carey Institute for Global Good. The event was hosted in partnership with Starbucks and Cohen Veterans Network. Guest speakers included Elana Newman, Wendy Wolf, Stuart Krichevsky, and many others.
“It was an incredible week. A lot of us have other jobs and we have families. To be able to be offered this week to do nothing but reflect on the life we’ve had thus far and to dedicate that to writing and making something meaningful from that was really incredible.”
— Sarah Schmidt
The Lenfest Institute profiled our War Horse Fellows program and our efforts to forge the next generation of military writers. The feature highlighted that “while The War Horse focuses on the military community, there are a ton of great lessons here for any publication that’s looking to introduce new writers and tell underrepresented stories.”
“A lot of times, veterans don’t think their own stories are remarkable—especially women veterans within that—so to be able to share your story in a safe space when it’s in the nascent phase and to see it completely resonate with the other women that are there is very encouraging to want to get it out and share it with more people.”
— Elizabeth O’Herrin
TWH founder was selected to represent The War Horse and refine business and strategy during a yearlong peer support group of nonprofit newsroom leaders. The council, according to INN, represents “the excellence and diversity of nonprofit news organizations working to inform communities through factual journalism and build philanthropic support for news.”
Thanks to support from the Knight Foundation, our team worked alongside the Shorenstein Center and Soundview Creative to launch our redesigned website. With this vital upgrade, our team then launched our membership program alongside News Revenue Hub and the Listening Post Collective.
During the spring, the Thomson Reuters Foundation accepted The War Horse to its TrustLaw program for pro bono legal support. This allowed our team to accomplish milestones such as establishing payroll, insurance, benefits, governance, and more. We also received generous support from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, Arnold Ventures, Reva and David Logan Foundation, and many individual donors.
With support from INN, our team integrated best-in-class business and reporting tools that allow for an unparalleled user experience and syndication of our stories.
According to the managing editor of Military.com: “I just republished a story from The War Horse and it went without a hitch—extremely helpful to have the code generated, and to have explicit permission to use the photos, with captions.”
Using feedback from past cohorts, we designed welcome packets, launched an application portal, and developed surveys alongside the Listening Post Collective. Implementing these technologies increased our efficiency and decreased our newsroom’s environmental impact.
“Of course, there are always more things to do when it comes to building inclusive communities that power our news media. Ultimately, what The War Horse has is a commitment to being thoughtful and placing resources into the hands of storytellers closest to the issues they cover. And that is an excellent cornerstone for building an institution.”
—Angilee Shah, Listening Post Collective
More than 250 War Horse readers helped us understand how we were meeting their needs and how we can improve in the future. They shared valuable insights about our community that will be used to inform our strategy and the topics our newsroom will explore in the future. Overall, reader satisfaction exceeded 91%. Of those who participated, nearly 60% feel they’d lose an irreplaceable news source if The War Horse ceased to exist tomorrow.
Our team welcomed 12 War Horse Fellows to our Writing Seminar for Medics and Corpsman at Boulder Crest Retreat. The event was hosted in partnership with Wounded Warrior Project, and guest speakers included Dan Lamothe, Wendy Wolf, Karen Stabiner, Robert Rosenthal, and many others.
“I haven’t felt that close to a group of people since deployment. It was being understood by those around me that enabled me to write what I did,” wrote one medic. “They got me, they knew where I was coming from, they became a source of encouragement.”
—2019 The War Horse Fellow
The War Horse published the results of our writing seminar survey. According to one medic,
“Hearing other people say the words that I have about my own experience was ground shaking. … I will always be grateful for the environment The War Horse created. There is real work that goes into this organization and this retreat, and one of the transformative notions is that someone would do this for me.”
Adam discussed his moral injury and the NYT feature piece he authored during our Writing Seminar for Medics and Corpsmen. “The stuff that you saw over there, and what you learned over there about yourself, about the way that the world works, it doesn’t go away,” he said. “You’re never going to be able to forget that. So, you have to figure out how to integrate that wisdom into your life, because that’s what it is. It’s wisdom, if you let it be.”
The War Horse worked alongside two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lucian Perkins to produce a five-minute film exploring the impact of The War Horse’s journalism, events, and writing seminars. According to one seminar attendee, “What Thomas and The War Horse are doing by giving this generation of veterans a voice and by actually educating people on the true cost of war is priceless.”
“Listening to You Helped Me Realize That War Isn’t Just in the History Books. It’s Going on Right Now.”
For four years, The War Horse has participated in a growing Q&A series with middle schoolers at Berwick Academy. The insights have been incredible. One favorite was about how, before their conversations with veterans, the student didn’t realize that transitioning from active duty was so challenging. “War is not all about glory and winning and shooting guns,” another student said. “It’s about the people.”
Another student, curious about becoming a journalist, said, “I used to think that war was all about combat, but now I understand it’s about so much more. It’s about building friendships and unbreakable bonds. It’s about learning to trust other people, figuring out some structure for your life, learning how to connect with your community, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and how to be grateful for things you may have taken for granted.”
The newsroom team published an anthology of reflections from our Writing Seminar for Medics and Corpsmen. The same month, The War Horse welcomed Kelly Kennedy as managing editor. She is the only American woman to have both served in combat in the U.S. military and covered U.S. combat as a civilian. She’s held various editorial roles from Military Times to USAToday and NYT.
Thanks to the generous support of the Thomson Reuters TrustLaw program and Dechert LLP, The War Horse was approved by the IRS as a 501c3 nonprofit. This milestone empowered our team to begin graduating from fiscal sponsorship and establish our founding board of directors.
The War Horse team published our second anthology of reflections written at past writing seminars. This anthology featured writers from our Writing Seminar for Military Spouses hosted at the Carey Institute for Global Good.
In further support of our independent nonprofit status and to ensure best practices, The War Horse partnered with a best-in-class accounting firm and established services that ensure state-level charity registration and fundraising compliance.
To support future engagement efforts, The War Horse was accepted as a pro bono partner with Ridgely Walsh, a leading global PR firm. In doing so, the newsroom will work to increase brand awareness and increase the impact of our programs.
In December, The War Horse hosted our founding board meeting, highlighting the business and editorial successes we’ve achieved since our Kickstarter campaign. By the end of the year, membership donations doubled and The War Horse team celebrated its most successful fundraising year to date.
Kelly Kennedy, the managing editor of The War Horse and a veteran of Desert Storm, was awarded by Military Veterans in Journalism for her years of reporting on behalf of service members, veterans, and military families. She was recognized alongside journalists from The Wall Street Journal, ABC News, and many others.