By Karissa Schmidt
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Like many young students, Joe Hermitt grew up not knowing what he wanted to do. But after taking a job at his uncle’s weekly newspaper cleaning the printing press, Hermitt eventually went from cleaning to press to working the press. And with encouragement from his uncle, he decided to try out photography.
“On a whim, I kind of enrolled in a class, a photography class at my local community college,” Joe Hermitt, a photographer for The Patriot-News said in a phone interview. "And I had never taken a picture before, so I was like 20, and I loved it.”
But after mentoring from a professor at a photography school, The Antonelli Institute in Pennsylvania, Hermitt jumpstarted his photography career by going out and taking photos every chance he could.
Hermitt, 51, gained most of his experience from checking the newspaper and attending sporting events as if he were working for an actual newspaper.
Hermitt started working for The Patriot-News in 1997 as a general assignment photographer. In 2000, he became the photographer covering the Penn State football team. While he takes other assignments occasionally, most of his time is spent with the team.
Not many people knew where the Penn State football team practiced, but Hermitt knew the location and was able to find a tree to climb and get photos from over a fence. He was up in the tree only for a few minutes before someone threatened to call the police.
“I got photos of Joe, and the assistant coach Mike McQueary who was a huge part of the case, together before the practice,” Hermitt said. “That picture ran like all over the world.”
Hermitt was working the night the Board of Trustees met and fired Paterno, outraging some fans. Hermitt recalls the reports of riots downtown and had to make a decision.
“Everybody ran downtown,” Hermitt said. “Fortunately, there was another photographer up here and I said to him, ‘You go downtown. I’m going to Paterno’s house.’”
Hermitt rushed to the Paterno's quaint suburban neighborhood. Around 10:30 p.m., he stood outside the Paterno’s house where about a dozen Penn State students sat around the yard, almost like a vigil.
“Someone came up and went up to the door, knocked on the door and left a bouquet of flowers there. And sure enough, about 30 seconds later, Paterno’s wife answered the door, picked up the flowers--she's in her bathrobe and she's crying. She has the flowers. And that was a pretty emotional photo,” Hermitt said.
As Hermitt stood out on the sidewalk with the students and a few TV stations, Paterno came out and talked to the students. Paterno, standing outside in his pajamas, unlike his usual attire of a shirt and tie, assured the students to not worry about him or start trouble.
“He turns around and he's walking in, going into the house, and one of the students says ‘We are.’ He turns around and he pumps his fist in the air and says ‘Penn State’ and walks into the house,” Hermitt said. “And that’s the last photo I ever took of Joe Paterno. In his pajamas, in bedroom slippers, probably 11:30 at night after he had been fired. It’s just surreal.”
Yet, that defining moment in the Penn State scandal was only a portion of Hermitt’s career.
Throughout Hermitt’s work with The Patriot-News, he has not only discovered his love of photography, but also experienced changes in newspapers.
“Things are just always changing,” Hermitt said. “It’s a fluid process now … it’s a constant evolution, and I think you really need to embrace it, be a person who is willing to embrace change, rather than resist it because it’s just constantly changing.”
With his experience in the field, Hermitt believes that if media is the career path you wish to take, you should devote yourself to the career and accept that there will be long, hard days with assignments.
“If you got a passion, feel like you're confident,” Hermitt said. “If people have told you that you got what it takes to actually do it, you know, don't give up.”
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