As a college student in 2015, Ben Bartenstein found himself 4,000 miles from home in Rabat, Morocco. Bartenstein went to Morocco to pursue a career in journalism, an offbeat choice compared to others from his Wisconsin hometown of only 500 people. Most of his childhood friends went into farming, teaching, or the family business. But Bartenstein, now living in New York City as a reporter for Bloomberg News, was always interested in a life outside of Wisconsin. “Growing up in a more insular place where there wasn’t much diversity just made me extra curious about the outside world,” Bartenstein said. He studied international relations at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and jumped at the opportunity to study journalism through the School of International Training (SIT)’s Field Studies in Journalism and New Media program in Morocco.
Bartenstein hit the ground running in Morocco, covering stories like the Saharan Desert marathon, the history of the Parsley Island political standoff and the different slums across Morocco. Bartenstein’s semester with SIT allowed him to meet many interesting people with diverse stories, confirming his aspirations and preparing him for his future in journalism. “The program was certainly really good training for the work I do today at Bloomberg,” Bartenstein said.
Bartenstein got his first international experiences with students who came to Wisconsin for foreign exchange programs. “I got to meet all these interesting people and realized there’s so much out there beyond this small town where I grew up,” Bartenstein said. “I loved writing and the best way to put that all together is to be a journalist, and especially to focus on telling international stories.”
In high school, Bartenstein was active in pursuing journalism. He wrote for his local newspaper and discovered journalistic opportunities such as JCamp, a weeklong intensive journalism program run by the Asian American Journalists Association. Although Bartenstein was initially unsure if he qualified for the program because he was not an Asian American, he applied and was accepted. Bartenstein soon found out that JCamp focused on all aspects of diversity, including racial, ethnic, religious and geographic diversity. “I was really fortunate to be selected for their program in high school,” Bartenstein said. “That was sort of the key turning point for me.” His JCamp mentor worked at Bloomberg News and became his first contact with his future employer. Bartenstein named the Asian American Journalism Association as a constant support system throughout his career.
Bartenstein’s key piece of advice to aspiring journalists is to get involved with a journalism group such as the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists or the Association of LGBTQ Journalists. “There are so many different cool journalism organizations that have very affordable student memberships and give you access not only to information but to the top folks in the industry,” Bartenstein said. According to Bartenstein, one of the best things for aspiring reporters to do is reach out to established journalists who could serve as potential mentors.
Bartenstein is now a JCamp co-director at the Asian American Journalists Association by mentoring a diverse group of young journalists. As a co-director, Bartenstein feels he can give back to the program that shaped his journalistic career while working towards a personal goal of making the journalism field more diverse. “I just want to make sure that the industry looks better represented a generation from now than it is right now,” said Bartenstein. “There are a lot of talented people who are pushing for that and I feel confident that it’ll happen.”
Not only is Bartenstein pushing for diverse journalists, but he also has a goal of diversifying journalistic sources. In 2017, Bartenstein realized that only 13 percent of his quoted sources were women, so in 2018, he set and met a goal of 50 percent women quoted sources. “We didn’t quote them because they were women. We quoted them because they were the most qualified to answer our questions on a given topic, yet somehow got overlooked in the past,” Bartenstein wrote on Twitter. “[Diverse sourcing] gives you a competitive advantage and leads to more interesting and higher impact stories.”
Ever since Bartenstein’s excitement about interesting people first piqued his interest in journalism, his favorite part of the job is the diverse, exciting people he gets to meet. While Bloomberg offers Bartenstein interview access to powerful people all over the world, he enjoys interviewing a range of people, from CEOs to security guards. “There are people from all walks of life who have really interesting stories to tell,” Bartenstein said.
Working at Bloomberg, Bartenstein can talk to people from twenty different countries in one day. Even so, Bartenstein’s favorite people to talk to are still his grandparents back home. Bartenstein speaks with them often to recount the stories he has collected from people all over the world. “Sharing my work gives them exposure to different cultures that they otherwise wouldn’t get,” Bartenstein said. “One of the rewards of the job is opening up their world in some way.”