by Jocelyn Moye
“I think I’d really like to have a conversation with you,” isn’t the typical opening statement of a visiting lecturer. At Montgomery County Community College, NBC10’s Lu Ann Cahn was anything but a typical guest. Communications students waited excitedly for Cahn’s entrance into the ATC building. But in the lecture hall, none were too shy to ask her their questions about the media business.
Cahn was direct in addressing the students’ interest in media.
“You have to know that there is nothing else you want to do,” she said of the beginning years: hard work, low paying internships in small towns, and frequent moves are all a part of starting out in the business. Cahn herself began interning in Casper, Wyoming years before landing her job at Philadelphia’s NBC10 in 1987. Now Cahn, unlike some others in the business, has been at the same station for over 20 years.
“She made it very relatable,” said Amy Brown, a Communications major, about Cahn’s unconventional lecture.
For Cahn, this approach to a lecture is a reflection of changing media industry. Media consumers are more drawn to the interaction of the internet than the patience of watching the nightly news.
The interaction of cell phones has also made a big difference. Cahn said, “We’re not the first person on the scene; somebody else is.” She made an illustration for the students by asking them what they would do if there was a fire in the room. Several answered that they would be on their phones texting, and few admitted that they would be taking pictures.
Now that cameras are in the hands of any cell phone owner, news photographers and videographers have been losing jobs. But, the prevalent use of technology has also helped the news business. Cahn said that in the past, people “wrote hand written letters or called a hotline” if they thought they had a newsworthy story. Now the public bombard news reporters with emails. This gives reporters a wealth of stories to sort through.
In this modern culture of reality television, viewers are more interested in opinion shows with lifestyle content. Gossip shows, like Access Hollywood, get more viewership than the news.
“There was a time when we put on what we thought people should know,” said Cahn of the public’s changing concerns, “Now we put on what we think they want to know.” Cahn says NBC10 broadcasts stories that balance both. She showed the students footage a news stories about food spoilage. The story was chosen because it was a public safety concern, and people in Philadelphia love chicken wings.
Students in attendance valued Cahn’s honesty.
“I like that she didn’t candy coat it,” said Mark Lewis. The video game design major said that he liked watching her investigative reports and learning about the reality of working in media.
“I appreciated her honesty about how the industry is changing and the challenges facing people seeking a career in journalism,” said Communications student Teresa Harris.
Victoria Ward, who plans to study screen writing and communications, said she found Cahn inspiring. “I don’t want to be a journalist, but I want to work with them. I need to know how they work.” Ward said that at times she feels discouraged as a writer. After Cahn’s seminar, Ward said, “She inspired me to keep writing.”
Cahn was also honest about the several skills that have become necessary for a person in the modern media business. Unlike the media days of old, staff positions are rare. Freelance writers, photographers, and videographers are hired for cost effectiveness. They don’t have a consistent place on payroll.
Every day has always been different on the job in the news business. These recent changes will push that even further. Many people in the media business will not have one place to call their workplace. Cahn says that those who will survive and thrive in the changing business will be people who can do everything. This new “backpack journalism” involves writing, photography, and videography as well as getting in front of the camera singlehandedly.
Despite the challenging side of these changing media times, students still found inspiration.
“Because it [media] is changing so much, there are opportunities to do things in an unconventional way,” said Teresa Harris.
To get accustomed to the rapidly changing technological culture, Cahn started a blog (OneYearofFirsts.blogspot.com) and wrote daily entries on new experiences for a solid year. Cahn also encouraged students to use media outlets available to them, like youtube.com, to get their voices and perspectives heard.
Although the media business is changing, Cahn is an example of someone who has adapted to successfully remain a voice in the news.
Jocelyn Moye is a Liberal Studies major at the College.