by Karyn Lacey
Oftentimes when journalists are asked, “Why did you decide to be a journalist?” A typical response to the question would be, “Because I was curious.” Some may consider that to be a generic response or even boring.
When given the question, Kyung Lah, a senior national correspondent for CNN based in Los Angeles, spoke candidly about why she decided to become a journalist.
“I was born in Korea and I grew up in the northwest side of Chicago. So, we were immigrants,” said Lah, “and what became very obvious to me as I was growing up is the lack of power my parents had because of our income, because of what they did, because of language, because of disability, and for me the great equalizer was journalism.”
Giving credit to her family and minority background, she acknowledges that reading local and national newspapers, such as the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the New York Times, helped her realize that journalism can be an avenue to be a better life and a seat at the table.
“If you are not connected politically, you don’t have a lot of money in this country, journalism could bring you to the forefront,” said Lah. “So, that was one of the driving forces for why I want[ed] to be[come] a journalist. To try to be a voice for people who don’t have a voice.”
Once Lah was set on becoming a journalist, there was no stopping that train to the journalism world. She graduated with honors from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. While attending U of I, Lah wrote for the school’s newspaper, The Daily Illini. However, it wasn’t long before she discovered broadcast journalism and fell in love with its potential.
“I couldn’t get into sort of the critical print class I needed…so I took a broadcast class. And I loved it. It was instant.” said Lah, “I thought writing to picture and sound, talking to people, and capturing the emotions of their voice. Man, this is it. I love it.”
Before returning to the CNN U.S. in 2012, Lah served as the Tokyo correspondent for CNN International. There, she covered the 9.0 earthquake that struck Japan, the disastrous tsunami that killed 15,000 people, and the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown. One year after the worst nuclear disaster in 25 years, Lah was the first US broadcast journalist to be taken inside the meltdown.
Since moving back to the U.S, she has covered numerous mass shooting, ranging from, “Newton, to San Bernardino to Las Vegas, to this last shooting in Parkland.” Covering multiple tragedies and calamities, Lah admits journalism made her wiser because it challenges her to look at all sides of the spectrum. She states that, “We need to understand that we don’t live in a bubble…America is large [and]…the world has so many different perspectives.” Although, she’s reported on some of the country’s most tragic stories, there is one that stands apart.
“One of the worst story I have ever covered was about a mother in Oakland (CA.), whose two sons died by random street crime… three weeks apart. All of her kids died in a month,” said Lah, “…that’s horrible. Is that America? Is that the way we want to live? All of that helps you realize, you better cherish life because it can go away quick.”
There’s no question that journalism connects various worlds that would otherwise be separate entities unaware of each other. Whether its reporting nationally or internationally, Lah learned, “at the end of the day, it’s still a lot about the human experience… connect[ing] people regardless of language and culture. You’re going to tell an authentic story.”
Journalism remains a continuous journey that leads to different paths, or as Lah affirms, “you are never going to stop learning” when it comes to journalism.