NBC 10’s Lu Ann Cahn Teaching at Drexel
By Furrah Qureshi
October 5, 2010 —
Graduate students studying communication at Drexel are lucky enough to welcome eight-time Emmy award-winning journalist Lu Ann Cahn as their professor this quarter. Equipped with over 30 years of experience in the field – a decade of which have been spent at NBC 10 – Cahn currently teaches Com 660, Investigative Journalism.
As a professor, Cahn uses her vast experience in the field as the source of her inspiration for her class.
“I went to journalism school, but most of what I learned was through experience. The course I teach translates experience into a classroom curriculum,” she said.
Cahn has always loved creating mentor-style relationships with young journalists and with the interns she has worked with in the past.
“I work with a lot of interns,” she says, “Over the years, helping them get their first jobs or helping them network has been a joy. I stay in touch with my interns. I get excited as they make progress.”
It is this wisdom and willingness to help others that make Cahn the quintessential professor.
Cahn readily acknowledges that the field of journalism is morphing. She describes the current state of media outlets like television stations and newspapers as an “experimental period.” With much of the uncertainty that plagues the journalism world, it might be easy for communication majors to become discouraged and pursue other studies. But Cahn, as a teacher and as a journalist, believes that the media is shifting naturally, albeit unpredictably.
“We’ve seen through history, different kinds of journalism--yellow journalism, print journalism and TV journalism. The pendulum swings back and forth. I think in the end, people do want the truth. They’re looking for a source they can count on, that they can believe in,” she says.
Students pursing journalism should not fear the changes, Cahn says, “because there will always be a market for the truth.”
Cahn maintains, “Educated consumers will always look for that. The most educated viewers have to look at both sides of an issue.”
Cahn realizes that students must understand the difficulties involved in breaking into the journalism world. But she encourages them not to be discouraged by adversity. Cahn reflected back on many of the hardships she has endured in her life, none of which deterred her from pursuing the field.
Of her experience as a young, female journalist, she said, “I started in 1978. I was the only female in the newsroom except for the weathergirl. I would say that the guys in the newsroom were pretty rough on me. In the beginning, I was assigned the fluffier stories. I did feel that I had to fight to become a serious journalist. I had to pay my dues.”
Today, pioneers like Cahn, who braved the hardships, harassment, and inequality, have paved the way for a more egalitarian work environment. As Cahn points out, if you go into many television newsrooms or newspaper newsrooms today, it is overwhelmingly female.
Cahn teaches her students that one of the most important qualities of a journalist is determination. To effectively break into the field, there will be roadblocks and setbacks. But she encourages journalism students to remember their love for the field.
“I grew up in Atlanta. I remember when the first female reporter came on TV. I was so excited to see her” Cahn reflects. “The job seemed so great. You’re not sitting behind a desk, I had always loved to write, I liked giving a performance – but most of all I enjoyed showing the viewers things. It just seemed like the perfect job for me.”
Drexel’s co-op program offers students interested in journalism and other fields of communication hundreds of opportunities to gain work experience prior to graduation. Cahn believes work experience is equally as valuable as classroom experience. She encourages young students interested in the field to chase opportunities and pursue their dreams; “it is the young people who will change the media.”
In Cahn’s classroom, students are learning new techniques of media as well as time-tested ones. Cahn is in favor of balancing old-school journalism with new-age technology.
“I think that bloggers are a natural progression,” she says.
Instead of merely breaking news, Cahn describes a new direction for young journalists to focus their career.
“The role of journalists is going to be to get in touch with citizen journalists and then check the accuracy of their information. Journalists will more so be sifters,” Cahn believes.
In today’s society, everyone has a camera. The first person on the scene of a story isn’t necessarily a journalist anymore; it’s an average citizen. While citizen-journalists will use Facebook and Twitter to break stories, Cahn says “journalists will be used more to evaluate the accuracy of that information.”
“Nobody knows exactly how it’s going to turn out,” Cahn says. She points out “people are not watching local TV or reading newspapers like they used to. Young people understand the new media more intuitively than older people. There’s a window of opportunity for people interested in journalism to use the new media.”
It will be up to the next generation of journalists to definitively decide how to report in an informational, web-based society.
While many skilled journalists who made their name at major newspapers and magazines are leaving print media to have online jobs, Cahn sees this as a positive shift rather than as detrimental to journalism.
“I encourage skilled journalists to take their skills and credibility to the web. They are bringing their ethics. As more veteran journalists go over, these online sources will become better and more credible.”
Cahn wants to see the new online format of news have the same level of journalistic credibility that many other newspapers had. It is journalistic integrity that Cahn believes is the number one thing journalism students should take from her class.
“There are always two sides to a story. Always. You cannot walk into a story having decided what it is. You have to seek the opposite view even if it isn’t obvious,” Cahn says.
Cahn’s conviction to her craft and her foresight into the future of journalism are what allow her to be such an effective professor. Her students trust her advice and learn from her experiences. Cahn sees her role as a professor possibly expanding in the future.
“I don’t think I’m ever going to retire” she says, “I don’t think I’ll ever be a person who doesn’t work.”
Furrah Qureshi graduated with her B.S in English and M.S. in Communication in June of 2012.