The Complete Evolution Of Lisa Ling

As an award-winning investigative reporter, Lisa Ling has covered stories from around the world. Ling's career has consisted of delivering stories on television that resonate with a vast audience, and she has covered events and people that are usually overlooked in media. With multiple shows and Emmy nominations under her belt, Ling has become a trusted reporter and a household name. Like other journalists, Ling's focus has been on telling the harsh truths of our world. Whether she's in the newsroom at CNN or taking us on a road trip across America with "This is Life with Lisa Ling," she has forced us to confront many social issues affecting our world. 

Ling's impressive track record is one that her peers would be jealous of — she has more than 30 years of groundbreaking reporting on her resume. From her short stint on "The View" to her HBO docuseries highlighting America's cuisine and projects on OWN and CNN, Ling has made her mark on several networks with her must-see reporting.

Though the journalist has narrated other people's stories for decades, many may not know the story of Lisa Ling. Here's the complete evolution of this esteemed journalist. 

She grew up feeling like an outsider

Currently, Lisa Ling is a recognizable face in the world of television, but while growing up in Sacramento, it was a different story. According to Ling, she felt like a complete outsider as a child. Ling's parents divorced when she was seven, and she and her younger sister lived with their father. "When you're ethnic and your parents divorce, it adds a whole new layer of challenge to your life because you already feel like an outsider," she told Glamour in 2012. "We also didn't have much money — my dad was always working to put food on the table, so I became the lady of the house even though I was still a child myself." 

Ling was raised in an immigrant household. Her mother is a Taiwanese immigrant, and her father immigrated from Hong Kong in 1937. Living in a suburban neighborhood in California, the reporter was apprehensive about embracing her Asian American identity. "My own background was something that I was uncomfortable with," she explained to The Washington Post. "I never felt totally American, nor did I know the first thing about being Chinese from China, and so I really struggled with identity." Many of her classmates also teased her about being Chinese, and their hurtful remarks left her feeling ashamed. The reporter recalled never speaking up to her tormentors who called her racist nicknames, per the Los Angeles Times.

She was an average student in school

Lisa Ling's work as a reporter has been outstanding. However, her work as a high school student was less than stellar. In 2014, she penned a piece for CNN detailing her experience. "Even though I earned a number of writing awards, scoring Cs and occasionally Ds in math and science often made me feel stupid and like a failure," she wrote. "The worst part about getting poor marks was that my strict father would ground me for a month every time I got a C or below." While in school, Ling struggled during exams and frequently went blank when attempting to recall the information she was taught. 

However, her average grades weren't from a lack of effort. According to Ling, she worked hard to earn them and even grew inspired after discovering her love for telling stories. "But despite my intense feelings of incompetency as a kid, something funny happened: I became incredibly ambitious," she explained. Ling's love for storytelling prevented her from feeling discouraged by her struggles in school. 

Her reporting career started when she was just 16

Lisa Ling began her dream career as a reporter before she was old enough to cast her first vote. At 16 years old, she landed a gig as a host on "Scratch," a nationally syndicated show in Sacramento geared towards teens. When she was 18, she became a reporter for Channel One News, which allowed her to travel and report live on the ground, all while studying at the University of Southern California. She became their senior war correspondent at only 25.

Many would've considered her too young to be exposed to such dangerous reporting, but Ling found the experience transformative. "That show sent me to so many different countries. I probably traveled the world a couple times over in my late teens, early twenties, and it just opened my eyes to all the fascinating stories out there, the fascinating world that we live in, and it propelled me to want to tell stories," Ling said in an interview with Fast Company

During her time on the network, Ling had a famous co-anchor — CNN journalist Anderson Cooper, who appeared on Channel One in the early '90s. When the two reunited in 2012 on Cooper's short-lived talk show "Anderson Live," they reminisced on their early days as aspiring reporters.

She had a seat on The View

When Barbra Walters developed "The View," her mission was to have multiple women from different backgrounds voice their opinion on issues that matter. The talk show seemed like the perfect place for someone like Lisa Ling. In 1999, at just 26 years old, she became one of the show's youngest co-hosts ever. Ling explained to Fast Company, "When 'The View' came along I thought it would be a really good opportunity to raise my profile enough that I could one day do the kind of work that I had been doing at Channel One on a wider scale." 

As a co-host, Ling leaned on her background as a reporter to provide informed opinions on issues around the world. However, "The View" has had plenty of discussions that went too far, and when the reporter looks back at her three-year stint on the show, there is one moment she regrets. In 2001, while discussing Monica Lewinsky during a segment, Ling shared a private conversation they'd had. Lewinsky had confided in Ling that she was disappointed that questions she was asked during a college tour weren't more intellectual. "I don't know what's intellectual about being on your knees," Ling told the audience. The zinger earned her applause and laughs, but on the inside, Ling cringed. "It was a horrible, horrible moment where I sacrificed my own character for that laugh," she revealed on the "Behind the Table" podcast.

She had an interesting relationship with Prince

In the world of daytime television, "The View" is the reigning champion in ratings. Audiences have continued to tune in despite the rotating chairs of co-hosts. When Lisa Ling co-hosted from 1999 to 2002, one special admirer tuned in to see her. Prince (yes, that Prince) was allegedly such a big fan that he contacted Ling's team to retrieve her number. During an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, Ling revealed that she received a phone call from him asking if she wanted to attend a TLC concert with him. The two attended the show and chatted all night in his hotel room afterward. The following day, the singer phoned her again and asked to hang out. This time, they had a lovely chat until 5 a.m. However, things soon took a strange turn. 

The following day, Ling mentioned a man from her past during a segment on "The View," which resulted in Prince phoning her again. "He said, 'Who were you talking about?' And I said, 'I was talking about someone in my past," Ling told Jimmy Kimmel. She shared that the singer wanted more answers and asked, "Why were you talking about him?" Ling felt the question was strange, considering they weren't in a relationship with one another. 

Following that phone call, she never heard from him again. "I mean, I still to this day think that he is the greatest artist who ever lived," she continued. "But it was a little bit of a weird interaction that we had over the course of a couple days."

Her high-profile reporting included a story involving her sister

As a reporter, Lisa Ling has uncovered shocking stories from all corners of the world. From reporting in Afghanistan to speaking to inmates in prison, Ling has always been fearless in her pursuit of raw stories. However, in March 2009, she broke one story that hit too close to home. Ling's sister, Laura Ling, and a colleague were working on a documentary about North Korean refugees. The two were reporting from the North Korean border with China when they were arrested by North Korean soldiers and charged with illegal entry. 

Laura Ling was detained for months and questioned by officials before she was sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in a prison camp. When her older sister Lisa received word of the arrest, she worked diligently to secure her sister's release. That meant utilizing all of her high-profile connections with diplomats and other journalists. As Laura Ling awaited her fate, Lisa Ling spoke to the international press, hoping to pressure North Korean leaders into releasing her. In August 2009, former President Bill Clinton arrived in North Korea to meet with Kim Jong II and negotiate her release. The diplomatic meeting successfully helped Laura Ling return home to the States. 

In 2011, the sisters penned a book detailing their experiences during the terrifying five months.

She received death threats during the pandemic

Being a reporter means you are on the front lines of many vital news stories. However, if you're a reporter as visible as Lisa Ling, that limelight may mean countless attacks from online trolls. In 2021, her CNN docuseries "This is Life with Lisa Ling" covered the wave of anti-Asian attacks during the pandemic. While Ling reported on past anti–Asian hate crimes, she revealed that she's also received hateful messages from trolls. In March 2020, Ling tweeted a screenshot of a message she received on Instagram that contained racial slurs and wished harm to her children. 

After some followers encouraged the reporter to ignore these hateful messages, Ling explained why she was posting them publicly. "Believe me, this is the last thing I want to be dealing with right now given how terrifying the world is right now. But when I see people who look like me being attacked just because of their ethnicity, I can't be silent," she wrote on Instagram. Amid the ugly messages she received, Ling continued to garner support from her followers and colleagues. 

One Twitter follower responded to her, writing, "I'm sorry this is happening, Lisa. This situation we are in is unveiling some of the ugliness that has been under the surface — and in some ways has always been on display. I've always been a fan of yours and I know you have many supporters, near and far."

She changed her mind about becoming a mom

Since entering the field of investigative journalism, Lisa Ling has never slowed down. She pulls double duty as a journalist and a mother of two. However, once upon a time, Ling didn't envision herself becoming a mother. "I never really had that biological desire to have a child, period, until my husband and I had been married a number of years," she told Mother in 2018. "And honestly, I am so glad that I have these two children, because they are the light of my life. There is nowhere I would rather be and nothing I would rather do than be with these kids." Ling even credits the lessons she's learned from investigative work for helping her be a better parent. 

Ling's career was always driven by her thirst for travel and live reporting. However, since becoming a mom, Ling has decided not to jump at opportunities that might be dangerous. "Given what happened to my sister and now that I'm a mother, I certainly think twice about a lot of the assignments that I take," she told People. However, Ling is still proudly raising her daughters not to fear independence. She told the outlet that her eldest daughter Jett has already taken after the other independent women in her family. "Her mother, both of her grandmothers, all of her aunts are fiercely independent women, so I shouldn't have expected anything else," Ling gushed.

She was diagnosed with ADHD

In her docuseries "Our America with Lisa Ling" the journalist had one special investigation in which she uncovered something new about herself. The episode titled "The ADHD Explosion" explained the condition and documented young children receiving their diagnosis after taking an exam. After learning about the symptoms of ADHD, Ling reflected on her own life and realized that she identified with many of them. The reporter decided to keep the cameras rolling as she volunteered to get tested for ADHD. 

"As a journalist, when I'm immersed in a story, then I feel like I can laser-focus," she explained to a doctor during the episode. "But if I'm not working, my mind goes in every direction but where it's supposed to go. I've been like that since I was a kid." She continued to discuss her troubles focusing with the doctor, who later diagnosed her with ADHD. After receiving the diagnosis at 40, Ling was relieved to finally have answers about her past struggles in school.

 "My head is kind of spinning," said Ling. "But I feel a little bit of relief because, for so long, I've been fighting it and I've been so frustrated with this inability to focus," (via ABC News). In an interview with Today's Parent, Ling stated that exercising regularly helps improve her focus and manage her ADHD symptoms.

CNN canceled her show due to budget cuts

Lisa Ling launched "This is Life with Lisa Ling" on CNN in 2014, and it became the longest-running original series on the network. The series allowed Ling to shed light on different communities across America, giving viewers an up-close look at folks living under the threat of various social and cultural issues. By documenting participants' lived experiences and sharing one-on-one interviews, the series helped audiences learn about lives that were different than theirs. "In all of our shows, we have sought out a deeper understanding of who people are and why they might do or think the way they do," she penned in an essay for CNN

Despite its meaningful work, the network ultimately canceled the series in 2022. Budget cuts at CNN forced the network to decide that the show's ninth season would be its last. Despite her disappointment in the network's decision, Ling expressed pride in what she accomplished through the series. "It has been an honor and a privilege to share these human moments with so many over the years," she wrote for CNN. "And it's these kinds of interactions that we need more of in America today." 

She's introducing viewers to Asian culture through food

In January 2022, Lisa Ling premiered a new docuseries on HBO Max titled "Take Out," which explored the many diverse dishes of Asian American cuisine. Besides showcasing mouthwatering dishes from different cities, the series also educated viewers on the lengthy history of Asian American communities across America. While hosting the docuseries, Ling told viewers the story of her grandparents, who struggled to find work after immigrating to the country. Though both had previously earned professional degrees, they needed to open a Chinese restaurant in Sacramento, California, to make a living.

This project was not only a history lesson for viewers but also for Ling, who admitted she hadn't learned much Asian American history growing up. "I feel like the work that I'm doing now is so important and means so much to me," she said in an interview with Tamron Hall. "I honestly never thought that I would be able to do this kind of work and also be able to share these incredible forgotten and buried histories of Asian America." The series featured six episodes that covered cuisine from Asian communities in Louisiana, New York City, and Los Angeles.

While working on the series, Ling was accompanied by her two daughters, who were proud of their culture's foods, unlike how Ling felt growing up. Ling expressed her gratitude that her daughters don't shy away from their Asian American identity.

She claims psychedelics saved her marriage

In a marriage, the 10-year mark can make or break you. For Lisa Ling and her husband, oncologist Paul Song, their 10th-anniversary celebration ultimately saved their marriage. During an appearance on Jada Pinkett-Smith's "Red Table Talk," Song revealed that he realized something was missing in his life on their 10th wedding anniversary. While covering stories about the benefits of psychedelics psychotherapy for an episode of "This is Life with Lisa Ling," Ling encouraged her husband to attend a retreat. Song took his wife's advice and says his experience with ayahuasca helped him begin healing from his past trauma.

He walked away from the adventure as a changed man and a better parent. "In terms of my relationship with my own kids, I think it took it to a whole 'nother level," Song recounted to Pinkett-Smith. "And also in terms of my relationship with Lisa, just being able to communicate more and also realizing I didn't need to do everything all by myself."

Ling agreed that her husband embarking on this journey saved their marriage. "We don't have a perfect relationship, no one does," she admitted. "But it sort of unlocked and has given us this path to healing we really needed."