At the age of 18, Lisa Ling snagged the perfect gig
to satisfy the intrinsic curiosity that percolates inside all natural-born journalists. She became a correspondent for Channel One News, which broadcasts news segments to middle schools and high schools. At the station, she shared an office with Anderson Cooper and traipsed the globe, covering stories in Afghanistan, Iran and whatever other outposts demanded cameras, microphones and questions.
Now 20 years later, the drive that took her to high-profile opportunities such as hosting The View and acting as a special correspondent for The Oprah Winfrey Show has landed her in a dream scenario, at least for a broadcast journalist. She is host of Our America with Lisa Ling on Oprah’s nascent OWN network. As such, she scours the country looking for provocative stories that might not be on the average American’s radar—or the average network’s programming schedule. “Last season, we covered an array of [subjects including] faith healers, online brides and different stages of transgendered life,” she says of her show, which starts its second season this fall. “Every single show provokes people to think about things they didn’t think about before."
A Journalistic Outlook
Naturally, Ling is a fan of quality journalism. She just finds the television landscape almost inhospitable to it these days. “The news on television is so heavy-handed and so intent on telling you what to think, I think it’s egregious,” she says. “It’s just really banal programming, and it appeals to the lowest common denominator. I never thought I’d get to do a show like this that is so cinematically beautiful, but also substantive and significant.”
A native of Sacramento who now lives in Santa Monica with her husband, oncologist Paul Song, Ling’s own life is filled with compelling tales. Her younger sister Laura and a colleague were captured in 2009 by North Koreans after they attempted to film refugees near the Chinese border. They were confined for almost five months before being released with the help of former President Bill Clinton.
In addition, Ling suffered a miscarriage last year, and the emotional fallout from that led her and business partner Sophia Kim to set up the website secretsocietyofwomen.com, which provides a meeting place where women can discuss personal issues anonymously. “The experience of having a miscarriage made me feel so incredibly alone and at fault,” she says. “Then I came to realize there were so many other women who went through a similar experience and also felt alone. So [Sophia] and I started the site. Women have come in droves to spill their hearts and find a sense of community in so many ways.”
Ling’s world—and the world in general—has changed a lot since she was 18. But her commitment to her work has not, even in these more perilous times. “The world is certainly a different place than when I was first working internationally,” she says in reference to her sister’s ordeal as well as that of CBS News’ chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan, who was sexually assaulted by a mob in Egypt earlier this year. “That’s all a real cause for concern. But I feel more defiant than ever about the importance of providing substantive journalism.”