Editor’s note: This is the first article in a series catching up with some of Marshall University’s alumni and what they are doing now.
It all started with an ad.
Beth Sergent, editor of Ohio Valley Publishing, always knew she wanted to write but never thought it would lead to journalism.
“I just knew I loved to write,” Sergent said. “I’d always loved to write and the local newspapers were the only outlet for me to get paid and do that.”
Ohio Valley Publishing is home to the Point Pleasant Register, Gallipolis Daily Tribune and Pomeroy Daily Sentinel.
Sergent graduated from Marshall University in 2009 with her bachelor of Language Arts in English. Her journey has not been a smooth one.
“I was a nontraditional student. I dropped out of high school for some health reasons and got behind,” Sergent said. “I sat a year out and figured out what to do and went back and got my GED and then I would slowly take some classes at Marshall here and there. MOVC, of course, because it was just easier ‘cause I had to work. I was a working adult. And then slowly picked up steam and picked up more and more.
“I want to say it took me about six or seven years to get a bachelor’s degree, I just kept at it,” Sergent said. “In that time, I got hired on my first journalism degree, like, four years before I graduated.”
While in school, Sergent worked for a hardware store, and an advertisement for that store is what launched her into the journalism world.
“When you bought an ad you got a free story and a photo,” Sergent said. “You were allowed to write it if you wanted to and so my boss said, ‘Well can you write that for me?’ And I said, ‘Sure.’”
Sergent went on to write the story and when they sent the photographer, who was also the editor of the Point Pleasant Register, he liked her story, and she let him know she may be interested if they ever needed anyone.
“A few months later they contacted me and asked if I would come in for an interview and I did. That was 2004 and they hired me for The Daily Sentinel. I was a staff writer,” Sergent said.
While Sergent majored in English, she only took one journalism class as a filler her last semester of college.
“I knew nothing about journalism other than what I had read in the newspaper,” Sergent said. “I basically learned from great people who had been in it for years.”
While Sergent’s main focus of study was creative writing and writing intensive courses, she credits Marshall with helping expose her to different writers and ways of looking at things.
“I was maybe at the junior level when I got my job at the Sentinel,” Sergent said. “It prepared me because it teaches you a different way to write and exposes you to different writers and different ways of communicating.”
Sergent said she never expected to be where she is today.
“A lot of people that knew me several years ago think I’m pretty introverted at the time,” said Sergent. “And now I have this local media, we’re talking generations of people who put effort into these publications. And here I am running the content and the editorial.”
While Sergent said it can get overwhelming at times, she never takes her job for granted.
“I’m just translating people’s lives. That’s just what I’m doing,” Sergent said. “That involves listening and letting people tell you their stories and not ever being the story, just letting it unfold.”
Sergent said this carries a responsibility of sharing the story and letting people make up their own minds.
“Someone is sharing their best or worst day with you and sometimes they’re just sharing their in between day, but it’s still up to you to get it right,” Sergent said.
Being a journalist, Sergent is faced with the stigma of media being lumped together and labeled as “fake news” which she says should never happen.
“I think every news organization is different and I think to lump news organizations together is a disservice to a lot of hardworking people,” Sergent said. “It’s kind of like this, every snowflake is different, and yes, I said snowflake, and so is every media organization and I think to lump them altogether, I think is impossible. I really do. Everyone is different.”
Sergent recalls covering a Trump Rally in Huntington, West Virginia.
“We were sitting down in front of like CNN and Fox and all these major national outlets,” Sergent said. “Whenever he’d say, ‘media’ people just soundly boo’ed everyone. It made me uncomfortable.”
She said this is why it is important to not lump all media outlets together.
“Be specific about who you have a grievance with,” Sergent said. “People are very broad with their criticisms and one size doesn’t fit all and certainly not in our industry; it doesn’t fit all. Certainly, there are improvements, but there are a lot of things people are doing right.”
Along with the fake news stigma, many media organizations are facing industry cuts. Sergent said while they have faced several cuts, readership is up online.
“Our online presence is growing,” Sergent said. “Every county Mason, Meigs, Gallia has more hits per month than we have population.”
Sergent said news will always be needed, it is how it is received that will evolve.
“People will always need information. The way that we gather it is never going to change. The way that good solid reporting is still always going to be the same,” Sergent said. “It’s delivery that’s going to change and is changing. I don’t think people have quite figured that out yet in terms of what’s going to work the best or what the next new thing is.”
Out of everything it is hard for Sergent to pick a single moment that is her proudest.
“It is an accumulation of just showing up every day,” Sergent. “When they [the people] need to get information out they know who to contact. It is that trust you build with people overtime.”
Sergent says anyone looking into journalism should think about the dedication it involves.
“I would have them think long and hard about it because it is in transition,” Sergent said. “Anyone that’s done it for any length of time will tell you that you have to have a commitment to it. You’re not going to get rich. Very few get famous, if that’s what you want. And if you can’t honestly connect with people, it’s probably not for you.”
With all of the ups and downs that come with Sergent’s career, she knows every day is a new day.
“Sometimes it’s tough and I go to bed and think, I hope I did the best I could do on that,” Sergent said. “There’s always tomorrow. Always a clean slate and I think that’s the interesting thing about journalism.”
Sergent has been with Ohio Valley Publishing for 16 years. She has won several awards including Associated Press’ “Best Feature Writer” and “Best Columnist.”
Brittany Hively can be contacted at [email protected]