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April 8, 2009

Lisa Ling discusses her career with ULM students

Journalist Lisa Ling continued to delight and educate audiences with a Wednesday morning appearance before students of political science and history at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

The host of “National Geographic Explorer” highlighted her career, followed by a question/answer session with students of Drs. Kevin Unter, John Sutherlin and Joshua Stockley.

The session was part of the Presidential Lyceum Series, an initiative established under the direction of ULM President James E. Cofer to promote intellectual exchange among ULM campus family and the community.

Ling expressed regret over the spike in the “divisive rhetoric” sometimes seen in today’s mass media market, especially when so many other compelling and newsworthy stories could be told to an American audience growing hungry for pertinent information and a substantive analysis of current events.

She said she was proud of her work for National Geographic, which stands out because she is able to delve into complex subjects on a deeper level and avoid “spewing the kind of dangerous rhetoric” exhibited on many networks – both left and right of center.

“We’re taking viewers along with us … to feel and experience the event (as if) you were there,” she said, explaining the difference.

But Ling didn’t deny that she has become extremely close to the subjects she covers off-camera. She admitted she had even befriended an entire family addicted to heroin and remains in contact with the father.

“Just because I meet (you) through a story, doesn’t mean you can’t become my friend,” she said.

She said certain topics reveal themselves as inherently wrong, such as the plight of seven-year-old girls being taken as child brides by men more than twice their age in third world cultures.

Ling, who has covered the hidden and dangerous culture inside American prisons, implored students to realize that “some things are undeniable” – including the exploding prison population and America’s high recidivism rate among ex-felons.

“It’s incumbent upon us to address these things,” she said. “If that makes me an activist, so be it.”

Still, Ling insisted that she doesn’t cover stories to push any agenda, only to raise awareness.

The journalist noted that public radio listeners have surged at a time when many other media outlets continue to hemorrhage. She said quality, in-depth reporting is unlikely until broadcasters can afford to shun an addiction to ratings, which drives corporations to pay top dollar for on-air advertising.

She also encouraged students, as she did during Tuesday evening’s presentation, to travel as much as possible and to document their experiences.

Saying that the recession has forced her to focus on more national issues, as opposed to international, Ling indicated that the current recession has shifted Americans priorities.

“Whether you are Republican or Democrat, I think that’s a good thing,” she said.

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