On Feb. 2, TV journalist Lisa Ling told her Rio Grande Valley audience that treating everyone with respect, as a human being is the key to her success in telling stories that have impacted many lives.
Ling, a correspondent for National Geographic and the Oprah Winfrey show, was the third speaker in the 2009-10 Distinguished Speakers Series (DSS) at The University of Texas-Pan American. She shared her experiences with more than 1,000 UTPA students, faculty, staff and individuals from the surrounding community.
"As a child the television was my favorite babysitter," said Ling. "I used to have fantasies about being part of this box."
Ling started with internships and eventually obtained a job at Channel One News, a news program for teens broadcast in U.S. middle and high schools, where she was one of eight correspondents. There she started volunteering to travel to places she said she could not even identify on a map to cover stories about pressing issues and wars.
"Traveling to different countries such as Afghanistan and seeing the effect of war and violence is what compelled me to pursue journalism," said Ling. "It was not about just being on television anymore and having a good life, but about telling a story that people otherwise might never know of."
Ling presented clips of stories she had covered such as Surviving Maximum Security, Columbia: The War Next Door, The World's Most Dangerous Gang and China's Lost Girls. She explained how she went into each story with "American glasses" and came out with new perspectives and realizations on the world.
Later she became one of the youngest members of the daytime talk show "The View," but said she found it to be challenging because stories she pitched were frequently labeled as not important.
"Producers would tell me 'great effort Lisa, but these stories are not important to Americans'," said Ling. "I could not wrap my mind around how these stories could not be important, it was time to move on."
As a field correspondent for National Geographic Channel's "Explorer" as well as the Oprah Winfrey show, Ling said she has received great feedback on her stories addressing often less reported on topics such as gang rape in the Congo.
She said the violence she has witnessed as a reporter has tested her faith.
"If there is a God, why does he let this happen," Ling said.
Reassurance, she said, came in the form of a poem titled "Why" from her husband in which he pointed out that "God also made you (Ling)."
Ling concluded by reading a poem she wrote, "Bride at 7," describing the arranged child marriages to older men that occur in a number of cultures worldwide and the physical and emotional damage it causes the "young brides." Ling said Oprah once commented on the public impact of her reports on topics such as this.
"Oprah said, 'Now that you know, you can't pretend that you don't'," Ling said.
Mottet called Ling's reporting inspirational.
"Lisa has redefined journalism and the power of a question," Mottet said.
The next Distinguished Speaker will be Luis Alberto Urrea, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of "The Devil's Highway," on March 23, 2010.