Journalist undeterred by changes in print media

By MARY KOPPY/Montana State News

Before Whitney Bermes knew about job markets and journalistic jargon, she knew what she wanted to do with her life.

“I took a journalism class my sophomore year of high school and I knew immediately that this is what I wanted to do,” Bermes said. “I like writing and reading. I’m a very social person and I started with sports writing, which was great because I love sports.”

Bermes, a 2009 graduate from the University of Montana’s  School of Journalism, began her career at a small Oregon paper that published twice weekly. She later moved to work at the Ravalli Republic in Hamilton.

Bermes’ mother is a doctor and her sister is a registered nurse, so her decision to pursue a liberal arts degree set her apart from the other women in her family.

“My dad asked me once why I didn’t go into medicine,” Bermes said. “You can’t help what you fall in love with.”

In high school Bermes admits that she knew little to nothing about the economy and job  market she would enter upon graduation. She built up a love for her subject before she knew anything about the complexities of a career in journalism.

“I work really hard to be good at what I do,” Bermes said, adding that she knows many other journalists who do the same. “I would get into something else if there were no jobs left in journalism, but for now this is what I love.”

In high school Bermes served as the editor in chief of the Sentinel High Kona and then in college as the sports editor of the University of Montana publication, the Kaimin.

Bermes describes her experience working on the Kaimin as “amazing” and added that the paper, which published four times a week, taught student editors about the daily grind of newspapers.

“And for a sports fan, you’re covering big-time sports,” she said. The University of Montana athletic teams compete at the national level and provide ample news for the college staff to cover.

“The work experience was phenomenal,” Bermes said. The Kaimin produced a special game-day edition that sometimes left Bermes in the office until 4 or 5 a.m. on Wednesday nights before games.

She brought her experiences as a student journalist with her into the working world, adding to them both of her jobs at smaller less frequent publications before coming to the Chronicle in 2011.

As a new journalist with the Chronicle, she  covers a beat called “Cops and Courts,” as well as covering some breaking news stories. “It depends on who’s been arrested and whose house has burned down,” Bermes explained with a smile.

She also uses her personal experience with social networking sites such as Twitter to strengthen her reporting.

Recently, she covered a house fire in real-time over her smartphone, tweeting updates and pictures before doing a full write-up back at the Chronicle.

Both Ted Sullivan, the Chronicle’s assistant managing editor, and journalist Rachel Hergett spoke about the relationship between sites like Facebook and Twitter and newspapers such as the Chronicle.

Hergett explained that they are all entry points to the same thing, bringing readers into the Chronicle’s website.

“Now it’s just a fabric of what we do,” said Sullivan. “You have to meet readers where they are.”

To aid with this, the Chronicle provides all of its journalists a “MoJo” unit. “It’s a mobile journalism kit, with a voice recorder, laptop, point and shoot  and video camera,” explained Bermes.

Bermes said that for her, the level of writing journalism provides will always be the most important aspect of the industry.

“Nothing replaces good reporting, good writing,” Sullivan agreed. “It’s the kind of writing only we do.”

The demands on journalism are changing as the medium shifts into a more online-focused system of information delivery.

“I personally think it’s an exciting time to be in journalism. Some people have a doomsday view of it but really in the last five years it’s been the first big change since they invented the printing press,” Sullivan said.

“As a professional journalist, you can really affect change, change peoples’ lives by letting them know what is going on,” Bermes said. “I always felt lucky that I knew exactly what I wanted to do.”

Edited by Becky Hattersley.

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