Lisa Ling discusses her 20-year career during Town Hall lecture
FOR THE YAKIMA HERALD-REPUBLIC
YAKIMA, Wash. -- Back in 1994, most Americans had never heard of Afghanistan. A young Lisa Ling stepped into an Afghani airport, five years after Afghan rebels defeated the Soviet Army, and met a group of young boys armed with assault weapons.
It was an experience that changed her entire view of the world.
Ling was there as a correspondent for an in-school news network called Channel One. It was her first work assignment abroad, away from her hometown of Sacramento, Calif., and it reaffirmed her desire to travel and pursue broadcast journalism.
Wednesday, the 35-year-old Ling shared her experiences -- and her commitment to international news -- as part of Yakima's Town Hall Lecture Series. Ling was the last speaker in the 2008-09 series.
Though she may be most recognized as a former co-host on the daytime talk show, "The View," Ling prefers to talk about other aspects of her 20-year career in television. She was the first female host of National Geographic Channel's "Explorer" and is now a world correspondent for "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
The daughter of divorced parents, she readily acknowledged being "baby-sat by TV" and once harboring dreams of snatching a role on "The Brady Bunch" or perhaps succeeding Connie Chung as a network news anchor.
"I grew up in a community without diversity and with little money, so I always wanted to do something different with my life, and TV to me seemed like the ticket out," Ling said.
At 16, she gained one of four spots on a local teen magazine show called "Scratch," and at 18, she moved to Channel One. For nine years she appeared in middle and high school classrooms across the country as a news correspondent.
It was through her international reporting on Channel One that Ling's desire to encourage global awareness began to form.
She and her camera crew landed in Afghanistan 15 years ago, when the media provided little coverage of the country. Afghanis were living in refugee camps, the Taliban was in power, and young men were armed with weapons -- many of which, Ling learned -- had been supplied by the U.S.
Though she worked in an industry that tends to focus more on local news -- and pop-culture stories like "the Octu-Mom," Ling's reference to the California woman who recently gave birth to eight babies -- uncovering stories in other countries became her passion.
On "The View," she was encouraged to talk about pop culture. She gained valuable experience on live television but found the conversation too limiting.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Ling brought up international terrorism. She said, "I think we should ask, why this happened and who was involved." Many viewers seemed to agree and sent e-mails saying they wanted answers, too. But one viewer wrote, "You don't know what you're talking about. Go back to China."
Ling said she realized then that she wanted to go back to international coverage.
National Geographic's "Explorer" has taken her to places like Colombia, to do a story on drug trafficking, and to China, for a story about the country's one-child/one-family policy.
Ling said she had a preconceived notion of what she would find when she went to new situations, but always found that no story is black and white. While she didn't like seeing families in China, for example, explain why they preferred boys rather than girls, she left with a better understanding of the complexity behind their thinking.
She ended her talk with a poem she wrote about young girls who, in more than 40 countries today, are forced to marry older men because of cultural tradition.
"After seeing something like that, I can't turn my back and pretend they don't exist," Ling said. And she hopes viewers don't either.
* Alyssa Patrick is a senior at Eisenhower High School.
Photo Credit: GORDON KING/YAKIMA HERALD-REPUBLIC
Article originally posted on the Yakima Herald-Republic web site at http://www.yakima-herald.com/stories/2009/04/22/tv-journalist-shares-life-experiences
Posted April 22, 2009
"Town Hall is like a little vacation day. We've enjoyed it very much for many years. Thank you for all you do." - Laurel Sorenson