Lisa Ling is not your typical journalist. Her successful career ranges from reporting on the civil war in Afghanistan at the young age of 21 to co-writing a book detailing her mission to rescue her sister from captivity in North Korea to hosting her own show, “Our America,” on the Oprah Winfrey Network – and she came to UCA last night to share all of her amazing stories.
I was one of four lucky UCA journalists who got the opportunity to meet Ling and visit with her just three hours before she took the stage in Reynolds Performance Hall. I expected such a successful journalist to be intimidating, and she was in the best way possible: Ling was strikingly beautiful, extremely eloquent and unexpectedly relatable.
Ling, who grew up “without money,” said television was her “support and comfort” growing up. She dreamed of being on TV in hopes that it could one day lead her to a “better life,” but this dream eventually evolved into a desire to immerse herself in other cultures.
Ling realized this desire while reporting on the civil war in Afghanistan, a place she admits she couldn’t even locate on a map at that time. She credits this as her “most pivotal experience” as a journalist, saying that it was there she realized it was her role as a storyteller.
Ling’s story-telling tends to have a powerful impact on the topics she covers, and she is frequently asked whether she considers herself to be a journalist or an advocate. “The truth of the matter is that I’m a little bit of both,” Ling confessed, saying that “impact journalism” is the term she has coined for her writing style.
Ling, who dropped out of college her sophomore year, credits her journalistic knowledge to experiences while traveling all over the world. “Travel changed my life in such a profound way,” Ling said. She added that the biggest piece of advice she could give to aspiring journalists would be to travel.
“Travel while you’re young,” she said. “Experience all this world has to offer.”
Ling also had another piece of advice for aspiring journalists: Journalism is not for those who are looking to get rich and famous — it is for “innately curious” people who are “passionate about telling stories.”
As Ling took the stage last night, it was apparent that she is a seasoned pro at telling stories. She broke the ice with a little humor by addressing a few frequently asked questions: “Yes, Oprah’s cool” and “No, I’ve never been in any of the ‘Charlie’s Angels‘ movies.”
Ling told stories from “Our America” and spoke briefly about her sister Laura Ling, her “best friend on earth.” Ling’s sister was held captive by North Korea in 2009, which she confessed was “the most terrifying experience of my family’s lives.” Ling says that the experience, along with recently becoming a mother, has caused her to take security more seriously while reporting.
Ling, who became a mother earlier this year at age 39, said the birth of her baby daughter, Jett, has changed her personal and professional lives. Ling said she never saw herself wanting to become a mother because she was so in love with her job, but her daughter has “enriched my life in ways that I never imagined, made me a better journalist and a better person. She has made me want to fight harder to tell stories, particularly about women.”
The audience could feel the passion Ling shared with each story she told, and the most touching moment came near the end of the night. Ling became emotional while sharing a poem that helped her through the difficulty of holding onto faith while being exposed to the darker side of journalism. The poem, entitled “Why?” told the story of a man who witnessed a “cold and shivering” girl “with little hope of a decent meal.” When the man asked God why he didn’t do anything about it, God replied that he, in fact, had done something: “I made you. I made all of you.”
Holding back her tears, Ling then closed with wise words from her friend Oprah: “Now that you know, you can’t pretend that you don’t.”