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Zuegner named Joella Cohen Endowed Chair in Journalism

Zuegner ActionWith two endowed chairs in its ranks, the Department of Journalism, Media, and Computing in Creighton University’s College of Arts and Sciences is sitting pretty.

“We joke that we can almost furnish a whole living room,” says Carol Zuegner, BA’77, PhD, who in October was named the inaugural holder of the Joella Cohen Endowed Chair in Journalism. “But it’s great for our department to have the opportunity to have two chairs, especially as we see journalism and digital media continue to expand in the world. Creighton is a great place because of its liberal arts background. There’s a crisis in journalism right now, from its ethical foundations on up and who we need to be, as a university, is a place that creates journalists and critical thinkers.”

Indeed, the chair comes about at a prescient moment in the history of journalism and the overall media landscape.

“Everyone you talk to says, ‘Journalism is dead,’” Zuegner said. “Journalism is not dead. It’s different. It’s going to keep changing and the graduates from Creighton are going to go out into that world ready for that change and willing to work for the changes.”

As an undergraduate at Creighton, Zuegner took courses from professors including Dave Haberman and her father, the late Chuck Zuegner, both longtime staples of the University’s journalism department. The emphasis then is much as it remains today — with an eye toward creating discerning, critical minds to report the news.

“I think my dad would be incredulous that we’ve got an endowed chair in journalism,” she said. “But I think it’s something he would agree makes sense, given the world of news as it continues to evolve. I’m excited about the possibilities here. With my dad, with Dave Haberman, I always felt the sense that I was being mentored, that I was being cared for, and that we, in turn, were caring for the human being at the end of every story. That’s the message I want to continue to bring out.”

Zuegner joins Catie Baker, PhD, the Clare Booth Luce Chair in Computer Science as JMC’s second endowed chair.

The chair’s namesake, the late Joella Cohen, BS’48, was an Omaha native and an ardent supporter of the University. Cohen’s estate established the chair to recognize a faculty member with a record of excellence in the teaching of journalism and in research or creative activity related to the field of journalism and media.

With a three-year term, Zuegner said she’s eager to continue and initiate projects in the department that spur interest in journalism and digital media and hone the skills of students preparing to enter those fields. As one of three leaders of the University’s Backpack Journalism program, which has produced award-winning documentaries from places as far-flung as Alaska, Uganda, and the US-Mexico border, Zuegner hopes to continue putting a spotlight on how journalism can serve a crucial advocacy role.

Zuegner also wants to devise new ways of fostering data journalism in the curriculum. As part of a department where computer science is included, she sees opportunities to integrate traditional narrative storytelling with numbers that drive home the facts.

“It’s about putting all those pieces together,” she said. “The human element, the data science. We’re a small department, but we’re operating with some big plans that we see at work every day. You still have to get the story, but you’re still always mindful that people are at the end of every piece you write.”

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