This is journalism goals with Lisa Ling

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.

The best review of the worst restaurant

Tina Nguyen’s review of Trump Grill(e?) for Vanity Fair is a work of art.

Politics aside, Tina Nguyen’s now-famous review of the resturant inside New York’s Trump Tower is the stuff of legend and journalistic goals. She took a basic restaurant review and told a story out of her experience, from the atmosphere, the people around her, and most importantly, the food.

Nguyen is a political writer at Vanity Fair’s politics and business-focused magazine The Hive. Her other most recent pieces focus on breaking political news like Trump’s transition, Obama’s recent press conference on Russian hacking, and Democrats’ recovery post-election. Her articles all have the brutal honesty and voice of her Grill review, something I find refreshing in the always stoic news cycles of the NYT, AP, and so on.

Now I love a good Trump bashing as much as the next bleeding heart liberal, but I really loved Nguyen’s piece for its writing. Nothing about Nguyen’s writing sounds passive. I could easily talk about her use of analogy, metaphor, and her great use of imagery, but it’s something readers should see for themselves:

The restaurant features a stingy number of French-ish paintings that look as though they were bought from Home Goods. Wall-sized mirrors serve to make the place look much bigger than it actually is. The bathrooms transport diners to the experience of desperately searching for toilet paper at a Venezuelan grocery store. And like all exclusive bastions of haute cuisine, there is a sandwich board in front advertising two great prix fixe deals.

I asked the waiter what Trump’s children eat. He didn’t seem to understand the question, or, like Marco Rubio, appeared unable to depart from his prescribed talking points.“Oh, I’ve shaken hands with him before, and they’re pretty normal-sized hands,” he responded.

The steak came out overcooked and mealy, with an ugly strain of pure fat running through it, crying out for A.1. sauce (it was missing the promised demi-glace, too). The plate must have tilted during its journey from the kitchen to the table, as the steak slumped to the side over the potatoes like a dead body inside a T-boned minivan.

The fried shell, meant for one, contained a party-sized amount of lettuce and ground beef suspended in sour cream and “Dago’s famous guacamole”, which NASA might have served in a tube labeled “TACO FILLING” in the early days of the space program. Sadly, the taco bowl, perfectly adequate as it was, is not good enough to prevent Trump from deporting millions of Hispanics.

The Fifth Avenue — Grey Goose with Cointreau and a “splash of cranberry” — tasted like vodka mixed with Crystal Light, the ultimate drink for an 18-year-old pledging a sorority.

Savage. And wonderfully written, her own voice coming through clearly in her assessment of Trump’s restaruant as a possible metaphor for the man and his upcoming presidency. At the end she says she wanted to be generous in her review, but looks around the grill again and the parade of humiliated Trump enemies vying for postions on his staff going in and out of the lobby. Nguyen takes in the tourists and overwhelmed staff and has to “wonder if he cared about any of them, either.”

Of course the man who’s too busy to hold a formal press conference or attend intelligence meetings has more than enough time to respond to a bad review in Vanity Fair. He tweeted his anger, because that’s all he knows how to do, and specifically called out the editor of the magazine, Graydon Carter.

Interestingly enough, NPR reported back in March that Carter was the one who started the beloved running joke of Trump’s small hands. The satirical magainze he co-created, Spy, would lambast Trump and NPR says, “the magazine chronicled New York’s obsessions with wealth and social status, zeroing in on Trump’s questionable business dealings (of which there were many) and his outlandish personal traits (of which there were perhaps even more).” So really, this has less to do with the review and more with Trump’s easily wounded pride.

Fortunately, Nguyen, Carter, and Vanity Fair came out the stronger for the article. CBS Money Watch reported, “in the aftermath, Vanity Fair said Thursday’s subscriptions soared 100 times the level it usually gets in a day. Plus, Thursday saw the largest number of subscriptions sold in a single day for any Condé Nast publication. Further, Vanity Fair added 10,000 new Twitter followers.”

So I say read Nguyen’s article for its writing, stay for its scathing review of Trump’s attempt to con people into believing he offers a quality product — be it his restaurant, competency, or presidency.