Exploring America with one of my favorite journalists.
I’d heard about the Taiwanese American journalist Lisa Ling, and in high school I read the book she co-wrote with her sister Laura — Somewhere Inside — about Laura’s captivity in North Korea. Both the sisters became huge inspirations and role models to me as journalists, women, and Asian Americans. So when I saw CNN put all of Lisa Ling’s series This is Life on Hulu, I knew how I was spending my weekend.
This Is Life is somewhat in the same vein as Ling’s previous series on OWN, Our America, where in both she travels around the country to different communities to talk to people and learn more about their lives. With CNN she’s talked to the Satanic Temple, the Mongol biker gang, explored the heroine and opiate epidemics, legal prostitution, and more. Ling really sheds a light on interesting and under explored people and groups in America, with a mix of understanding and genuine curiosity. I would say genuine objectivity, but often times Ling will say in brief self-recorded cut aways how she feels about each topic so people watching get a sense of how her thoughts change as the story goes on.
As a journalist who wants to write, watching Ling’s series is my own little crash course in how video journalism is done. Everything from her transitions, voice overs, and and the way she she talks during interviews is all about telling the complete story of these people. It’s an outsider’s point of view, but not in the exploitative, “Whoa, look at these weirdos!” kind of way. When I watch, I can see Ling trying to enter every new space with an open mind, her training as a journalist coming through to humanize the story and ask the long-term questions. Every episode isn’t the definitive nutshell for every case and person, but just a passing glimpse at a community you never knew about or had preconceived notions about.
Watching Ling tackle difficult stories and situations, like seeing a heroine addict shoot up, talking to survivors of abuse, or fathers in prison really shows the depth of a reporter’s understanding and investment in a story. She’s not afraid to cry, show she’s a little unnerved, or worried about the situation she’s in. This style of raw embed speaks more to the story than any classic journalistic objectivity ever could. You feel like you’re there with the people, and Ling, as events unfold. You feel like you understand, just a little bit more than before, what their life is like.
I’ve looked up to Ling and her journalism style since high school, and seeing a face like mine as a prominent journalist has been a big motivator throughout college. Right now, Hulu has three seasons of This is Life, and each one is only eight episodes. She’s filming season 5 right now, and I’m excited to see where she goes across the states, who she meets, and the stories she’ll tell.