Alumni Profile - Ben Wolford, '11
Fulfilling Lifelong Dream as a Professional Journalist
Ben Wolford, ’11, chose to attend Kent State University for the great journalism program after receiving scholarships from Kent State, the Knight Foundation and Portage County Insurance Association. This support enabled him to pursue his dream of becoming a journalist. He was raised in Hartville, Ohio, by parents who are both Kent State graduates. He graduated from Waterloo High School in 2007 before attending Kent State where he majored in newspaper journalism. His collegiate experiences prepared him well for his current role as publisher of The Portager, a local news organization serving Portage County, and editor of the English edition of il manifesto, an Italian newspaper published in Rome.
As a student reporter and editor for the university’s student-run newspaper the Daily Kent Stater, Ben developed newswriting skills that have served him in a diverse career. Following graduation, Ben was a staff writer at newspapers in Florida and a freelance writer in New York City before moving abroad to freelance overseas. He was a copy editor at the Bangkok Post, and while living in Jordan, he was the director of content marketing for a Swiss tech startup called Proton.
Honing His Skills at the Daily Kent Stater
“I loved the entire experience of being a university student. Looking back, it’s hard to believe I fit so much life into those four years,” he said. Some of his most memorable experiences happened in the Daily Kent Stater newsroom where he worked all four years and edited the paper in fall of his senior year. “My favorite journalism memory happened when I was editor of the Stater, and we had a particularly successful edition that contained a major scoop related to May 4. The director of the School of Journalism, Jeff Fruit, came down the hall and burst into the newsroom with a big smile holding the front page,” said Ben. “He smacked the paper and said something like, ‘That’s how you make a newspaper!’”
Ben’s Kent State experience also included being a cantor at the Newman Center, singing bass in the Kent Chorale and KSU Chorus and travel opportunities, including spending his junior year abroad at the University of Leicester. He also traveled to England, El Salvador, China, France, Spain, Italy and Canada. This international study allowed him to meet a woman on a train in Italy – Christie – who later became his wife. They have two children, Vivian, 6, and Marco, 4.
The School of Media and Journalism at Kent State put a huge emphasis on getting practical experience, as the only way to learn journalism is to have a tight deadline and a talented and demanding editor to enforce it. Ben received that from his editors at the Stater and from professional editors during internships at The Dominion Post in Morgantown, West Virginia, The Columbus Dispatch and The Boston Globe. “The internships were especially formative as I covered serious stories and worked with brilliant editors,” said Ben. “I also made lots of mistakes with heavy consequences, and that’s the most efficient way to grow in your career.”
Gaining International Experience
Ben credits his international travel experiences as the starting point for his career trajectory. “I knew I wanted to be a journalist since I was a kid, so Kent State didn’t do much more than equip me for that inevitable career,” he said. “I didn’t necessarily think I would become an expat until I was sitting in a coffee shop in Shanghai one afternoon during an international reporting class trip, working on a draft of a story, and thought, ’This is what I want to do with my life.’” Ben and Christie have lived in Vietnam, Thailand, Italy, the Dominican Republic, Jordan and Brazil during the last eight years. “More than a quarter of my life has been a project of inhabiting other worlds, which began in college,” he said. His family has recently relocated to Tucson, Arizona.
Building a Model for the Future of News
Ben believes community-funded news startups like The Portager offer solutions to existential challenges facing journalism today. The Portager’s mission is “to be a catalyst for ideas and action that help our communities thrive.” “We’re not just here to tell you what’s going on in that sterile, impersonal way that characterized newspaper journalism in the second half of the 20th century,” he said. “We’re actually here to be an agent of progress in the community.”
Advice to Aspiring Journalists – Challenge Yourself
He offers some advice to current Kent State journalism students. “If you must work, try to find a job in your field or in an adjacent field. There is a lot of remote work. Put yourself in situations where you are on the hook for important work on tight deadlines. And if you have the time and financial means, try to expose yourself to as many experiences as possible.”
Thanks to scholarship support, Ben was able to attend Kent State and fuel his passion and drive to support local journalism. As a result, he is just one example of the amazing success stories found among Kent State University alumni who are making the world Forever Brighter.