'I love journalism because of the importance of fighting for positive change...'
Columnist, New Zealand Herald
Associate Editor, Villainesse
Digital Editor, Idealog Magazine
As an aspiring writer surrounded by family working in media in Oregon, USA, Ben had always wanted to become a journalist.
‘I’ve always enjoyed writing and have wanted to make the world a better place, and when I learned you could combine the two I knew what I was going to do,’ Ben says. ‘I also really wanted to see the world, and thought journalism would be a great way to do that without being a millionaire!’
After undergraduate study in Mass Communications at Boise State University, and a year studying abroad in Sweden, Ben’s first journalistic endeavour was with a news agency in Berlin for several years. Wanting to see more of the world, however, Ben decided to continue on into postgraduate Journalism studies overseas, with UC in New Zealand.
‘I really have always had a fascination with New Zealand. I became particularly obsessed with edge-of-the-map places, and when I learned there was this tiny series of islands at the bottom of the world with a similar climate to where I lived in northwest Oregon, and had this beautiful-sounding combination of European and traditional Pacific culture, I knew I had to go there one day. No one in my family had before.’
Ben’s expectations of New Zealand were realised once arriving in Christchurch.
‘It’s almost mythologised overseas, but one thing that has really surprised me is the friendliness of Kiwis. I think New Zealanders are even friendlier than people say they are. I have never felt unwelcome here – in fact, I have never felt more accepted for who I am. That’s simply incredible.’
Hearing about UC’s reputation for Journalism helped make Ben’s decision to enrol here, but the full experience of the community and campus lifestyle ended up being the best part of study.
‘Where to begin? Amazing location. Beautiful campus. Incredibly friendly and helpful students and staff. Access to the wider community. A well-stocked library. Great drinks at the Shilling Club. A wealth of clubs where I could meet people with similar interests. Awesome public lectures. I could go on. UC is the best university I have ever attended.
‘I was a part of the Poetry Society and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Club. Both were awesome ways to connect with people into the same things as me and stave off loneliness, not to mention a great way to meet Kiwis. I made friends in both of those clubs that I still stay in touch with.’
Within Journalism studies, gaining knowledge in a variety of multimedia such as radio, television and social media was particularly worthwhile, even on top of Ben’s previous journalism experiences.
‘The skills I learned – like Teeline and how NZ culture and politics works – were incredibly valuable. It was great to learn about reporting the news from a New Zealand perspective, and the skills I learned in the programme I continue to hone every day.’
A highlight was the workplace internship as part of the Journalism programme. Ben was assigned to The Southland Times in Invercargill, and ended up staying with the team longer than usual to work on a story following an embalmer at a funeral home. The story ended up earning Ben ongoing full-time work with the newspaper throughout study.
Since graduating, Ben has gone on to a variety of other writing roles, including with Idealog Magazine, feminist blog Villainesse, and the New Zealand Herald, after following advice to ‘always be open to new opportunities’.
‘Writing for the Herald was a goal of mine since even before I came to New Zealand,’ Ben says. ‘The great thing about my job is no two days are the same. There are always stories to write, and sometimes when news breaks you need to respond quickly to disseminate truth from fiction.’
Ben particularly likes to focus on gender equality and social justice issues in writing, including life as an immigrant to New Zealand, feminism, and being a non-binary person.
‘I love journalism because of the importance of fighting for positive change, holding power to account, and empowering communities and marginalised people. All people have a right to be informed.
‘I was also blessed to grow up around some incredibly strong women who inspired me – my grandmother was a journalist in the US at a time when not a lot of women were working at all, much less after having children.’
Hoping to one day publish a book, Ben also has future plans to continue travelling with journalism work, even to places like Antarctica.
‘It’s a job that also has allowed me to meet all kinds of incredible people and see incredible places that I never thought I would ever be able to see. From growing up on a horse farm in the US to Europe to New Zealand, reporting from places like Afghanistan and North Korea… honestly, I have a hard time believing it has all happened. It’s a real-life fairy tale.’