Ben Holt

Ben is digital manager for Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF). He completed his NCTJ training at The Sheffield College.

“I’m not a journalist, not in any traditional sense. I work for Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) – the world’s leading emergency aid organisation – and I wouldn’t be here without my NCTJ training.

“I was working in logistics at the British Red Cross, having first freelanced for charities in Africa after graduating, when I decided to sign up for the NCTJ course. Much as satellite phones, broken 4x4s and warehouses were fun, I knew I wanted to work in communications, and I wanted to be good at it.

“It was an intense three months of shorthand drills, the intricacies of media law and knocking on doors for stories. You learn a lot in a short time and the standards are very high. Standing outside the pub after my last exam I was called by the editor of the Halifax Evening Courier and offered a job.

The Courier was then a fast paced daily paper, with its own press in the inky basement and fierce subs. It wasn’t always easy, or fun, but I definitely learnt a lot fast. Death knocks, drinks with police chiefs, tea with the vicar, anonymous tip-offs and contacts feeding stories from behind council lines made it interesting. Being screamed at by irate subs or phoning copy in straight to stone from shorthand notes sharpened you up.

“While I was there the press got taken to pieces and shipped to Turkey, a website was set up, journalists were given video cameras and the paper’s circulation fell. It was obvious the industry was shifting; digital was coming. The NCTJ hadn’t taught any of that at the time, but the core skills translated directly online.

“When I left the Courier, having passed the NCE and won an award for my coverage of the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, I went back to Africa briefly and ended up setting up a charity in Mali and writing features. Then it was London.

“My NCTJ training definitely opened doors in the charity sector, which is where I wanted to be. I worked at Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity, writing, running freelancers and building on a partnership with the BBC to produce podcasts and videos about the children and medics. We were nominated for Sony Awards, one of the kids won a Pride of Britain Award on the back of his video diary... and it was all underpinned by the NCTJ training.

“I always look for it when hiring writers because I knew they will be disciplined and skilful. I’ve recommended the course to a lot of people, and been surprised at how weak some professional ‘writers’ are who haven’t done the NCTJ. I’ve not met a weak one who has.

“Now I run the digital side of MSF UK’s communications. I still write, shoot and edit with the NCTJ mantra ingrained – accuracy and tight story telling. It has sent me around the world, seen me hanging out of helicopters in South Sudan and involved me in the most demanding stories. We work closely with journalists and help drive the news agenda during emergencies, speaking out on behalf of victims and calling for international action.

“All of this I hope, helps make a difference to people’s lives. The NCTJ will make a difference to yours."

August 2013