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April 8, 2009

National Geographic host shares global perspective at ULM Presidential Lyceum Series

Lisa Ling’s extensive career as an investigative journalist has plunged her into the craven depths of humanity, even as it has resurrected her hope in humankind.

Ling presented her journalistic view of the world as the featured guest speaker on Tuesday, April 7, during the annual Presidential Lyceum Series at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

During the hour-long presentation, Ling shared everything from her early influences (fellow broadcast journalist Connie Chung), to compelling clips from her reporting stints for the National Geographic network, to her recent correspondence work for the “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Ling explained the monumental impact of arriving in war-torn Afghanistan as a 21-year-old journalist in 1994. In the Jilalabad province, throngs of young boys, some less than 10 years old, carried technologically advanced weapons larger than their own bodies—their innocence obviously evaporated from their faces.

“They (the young boys) had an utter look of lifelessness,” said Ling. “I so distinctly remember thinking to myself, ‘what’s going to happen to these boys in 10 years?’”

Ling said she realized the weapons the young men carried arrived in Afghanistan through the United State’s proxy war with Russia some years earlier. She returned to the U.S. more committed than ever to covering newsworthy events around the world that she was certain more Americans craved.

After seven years at Channel One network, Ling declined major television network’s offers of employment for fear of covering celebrity-focused stories, and instead accepted an invitation as a regular panelist for “The View.” Ling joked about going from covering the refuge crisis in Kosovo to discussing her private life with Joy Behar.

Ling recalled she unleashed a flurry of viewer protests in response to her suggestion that Americans should ask themselves why the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, happened.

She went to work for the National Geographic network shortly afterward, where she still flourishes as an in-depth reporter with both national and international perspective. She showed clips of her journeys with the network, from covering the Columbian drug trade to the “lost girls” adopted out of post-Mao China.

Ling said she approaches nearly every story with one set of preconceived ideas, but walks away with an entirely different perspective. Ling rarely feels threatened, even in the face of dangerous situations, because “when we pay respect, that respect is almost always reciprocated.”

“Inevitably, when you meet face-to-face with people, you realize no story is black and white. There’s a duality there,” she said.

During a question and answer session following her lecture, Ling said she remains committed to making a difference by raising people’s awareness of global issues that matter and she encouraged students to keep an open mind and to travel while they are still young.

“Do something you are passionate about,” she said. “Even if you can’t travel, get out of your comfort zone. Go to a place drastically different than your hometown, even if you know you will eventually return.”

Ling said the only way to change people’s mentality is to engage them. She said she believes the economic crisis may emerge as a positive event in the grand scheme of things because it has reminded Americans to avoid being driven by consumption.

She said in spite of the pressing issues she has covered, she remains optimistic about the future.

One example is seen in the response to disasters following the horror of Hurricane Katrina nearly four years ago, according to Ling, who said the response now is swifter and much more efficient because of the hard lessons learned then.

“I’m always positive … because I see the positive in humanity,” Ling said.

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