Ben Barber turned 12 months of globetrotting after college into a decades-long career in journalism. “People need to be informed,” he says.

Ben Barber
Barber (left) in the Western Sahara desert with Polisario guerrillas, 1982

(All photos courtesy of Ben Barber)

This is the third in a series of profiles of News-Decoder correspondents.

By Amari Leigh

Ben Barber sits in the front seat of a Land Rover equipped with a 500-liter gas tank. It is 1982, and Barber has come to the Western Sahara to cover the Polisario guerillas.

Traveling from Tindouf Algeria to the former Spanish Sahara, Barber rode on the front line for 500 miles with the guerrillas.

Barber has spent 30 years traveling the globe and taking photos as a journalist and photographer. His biggest takeaway? “Remain objective even when you hate one side of a conflict. Your credibility is priceless.”

After finishing college, Barber decided to spend a “gap year” wandering through the developing world. Bitten by the travel bug, Barber ended up spending 13 years globetrotting — writing poetry and working odd jobs to support himself. 

After years on the road, Barber decided to pursue a masters degree in journalism. “I earned a masters degree in journalism and went back to the Third World as a freelance international correspondent,” Barber said. “Few people read poetry, and I wanted to communicate the wonders I found from Morocco to India.”

People need to be informed.

Barber got off to a traditional start in journalism, then worked his way up. “I covered news in Boston for wire services,” he said. “Then I worked on a small daily paper in the suburbs covering the basics — local elections, traffic accidents, city council meetings, etc.”

Eventually, Barber was able to cover some of the world’s biggest stories for leading publications including the London ObserverLA TimesUSA TodayUnited Press International, Washington Times, Christian Science Monitor and Legion magazine. He has taught journalism at Georgetown University.

What are some highlights from a career spanning multiple decades? Barber reflects fondly on covering a baby elephant training school in Thailand, flying on Air Force One with U.S. President Bill Clinton to Egypt for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and reporting on the Tamil Tigers during Sri Lanka’s civil war. 

Asked whether journalism has a future as a business, Barber said: “People need to be informed.”

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You can see Barber’s work in his photojournalism book, GROUNDTRUTH: Work, Play and Conflict in the Third World.

To read his stories on News-Decoder, click here.

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Amari Leigh is News-Decoder’s 2019 summer intern. An American citizen, she is studying French and world politics at university in the U.S. state of New York. Born and raised in New York City, Leigh has lived in Brazil, France and Portugal. She enjoys theater, learning languages and exploring new cities.

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