Small town to worldwide starting in ’91: The career of Lisa Ling

By: Paige Smith

Lisa Ling was born in Sacramento, Calif. on August 30, 1973. When her parents divorced when she was 7-years-old and her dad received custody of her and her sister, Laura and moved to Carmichael, Calif.

Ling appeared on her first television teen magazine show, Scratch at the age of 16. Mark S. Allen, who has won three Emmy awards for his reporting for Good Day Sacramento and who is also a close, personal friend of Ling’s worked with her on her first show, Scratch, when she was only 16-years-old.

During this show Allen had a segment called “Dateless and Desperate” while Ling did more news and feature pieces. In the early 1990’s Ling and Allen did a segment on the pioneers of bungee jumping.

“We followed these Chico State Engineer students and snuck onto a railroad bridge near the Feather River Canyon,” said Allen. “They strapped me in; Lisa hosted the segment and proceeded to throw a terrified me off the bridge.”

While the early 90’s may have helped launch her career she quickly rose to higher levels within broadcast journalism field after the show completed filming in 1994. From Scratch she made her way to the daytime talk show The View as a co-host. At the age of 25 she was a war correspondent and broadened her horizons into the field of investigative reporting.

Ellen Gabler, an investigative reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel believes that there are four main qualities that are looked at for someone as an investigative reporter. These four qualities include honesty, persistence, intuition and an ability to write well.

When it comes to investigative reporting it is important for journalists to know the difference between regular, everyday reporting and investigative reporting.

“You are trying to get beyond the ‘he said, she said’ nature of reporting that is often out there,” said Gabler. “You rely on documents, data and many sources to establish facts.”

This remains true with Ling who works with multiple sources and documents when looking over and investigating and reporting a story of various subjects.

Allen believes this is what makes Ling such a great investigative journalist.

“She is so well read and prepared, perhaps more so than anyone I’ve ever worked with, she was like that even on Scratch.” Said Allen.

Her co-workers and friends weren’t the only one to recognize her powerful demeanor of being a hardworking investigative reporter; younger generations see the demeanor as well.

Riley Carroll, a sophomore at California State Fullerton and a reporter for Eco Company finds Ling to be extremely inspirational and a great role model.

“Not only because she is fiercely brave and determined with her projects but she is breaking standards and stereotypes for women and especially Chinese women,” said Carroll. “Although Lisa was born in California, she is a Chinese female who ignored all stereotypes and pressures and became an amazing hard news journalist.”

Ling has covered many controversial topics and has put herself in dangerous positions as a reporter. One story that showed her strength and honesty as a reporter was when she was reporting live after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Allen explained that after the attack late night comedy talk shows went off the air for two week and the Late Show with David Letterman was the first one to come back on air and Ling joined him on that first show.

“Watching my friend that night educate AMERICA about the Taliban and Afghanistan, with brilliant anecdotal history of the people and the politics (she traveled to Afghanistan for several stories prior to the attacks) Letterman who is also astute about World politics conducted the most compelling and informative interview I’ve ever seen,” Allen said. “He and Lisa were amazing; and I sat there sobbing, I was so proud of her and knew it was an important moment personally and historically.”

These moments are the ones that inform society of what is going on in the world of chaos and devastation. This reporting and conversation between Ling and Letterman brought her career to even more great lengths. Between hosting and reporting for other channels and talk shows she got her name picked up by Oprah.

When Oprah first established her OWN channel, Ling had executive produced and reported for her first show: Our America. She is currently filming her newest show, which premiered on CNN in September 2014 called, This is Life with Lisa Ling.

Her career growth may have left less time available for her social life, but her friend’s understand and are forever grateful for her and her work throughout the years.

“She’s a dear friend, was part of my wedding, and also helped me land an agent and ultimately helped me get my own show on Comedy Central for a couple seasons,” said Allen. “I’ll be forever indebted and forever so proud of who she is and all she does!”

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