itizens packed the Buskirk-Chumley Theater on Sept. 3 to hear journalist Lisa Ling's stories and perspectives on issues ranging from China's one-child policy, the drug war in Colombia and the state of Afghanistan.
The standing-room-only crowd -- some were turned away -- also heard tales of prison, North Korea and the situation of today's media.
"I'm telling you, it was crazy," she said of her experience in the level-four security prison in Sacramento, Calif. "We walk on, and 200 men accused of the worst offenses, and there's just silence on the yard. And all of a sudden, as we're walking in, a guy yells, 'Yo, I just saw you on Oprah! '"
Ling, whose Bloomington appearance was sponsored by the IU School of Journalism, works for the National Geographic Channel and Oprah.
Her experiences inside the prisons contradicted Ling's expectations, she said.
"People are like, 'Aren't you scared? These are predators?'" she said. "Well yeah, but they all came from a mother, and they're all human beings, and they want to be heard."
She has found that in most situations, "if you are respectful to people, there's a good chance they'll be respectful to you back. "
On her experience in North Korea, Ling said culturally there was nothing.
"Cell phones are banned from everyone," she said. "The notion of the Internet is just completely unfathomable. There are only two television stations, and they consist entirely of propaganda."
She said the feeling of isolation "was just one of the most uncomfortable feelings I'd ever had."
Ling expressed discontent with today's media.
In North Korea there is no curiosity, she said. "When you are completely incapable of knowing what exists beyond (your society) you're not curious cause you just can't even fathom it."
Americans have access to everything, but what do they really know about the world, Ling questioned.
"We're so consumed with Anna Nicole Smith stories and Britney Spears stories that, you know, who cares what's going on?" she said. "In North Korea they can't know. They are prevented from knowing. Here in the United States we are inundated with information, so often we choose not to know."
Ling lambasted today's broadcast news channels.
"These days every single cable network consists of these old white guys yelling at you and telling you what to think and calling themselves 'news,'" she said. "I fail to understand how all these shows can call themselves 'news shows' because I just don't see a lot of journalism."
However, Ling does feel that there is a demand for in-depth news stories, which audiences are not often given.
One of the stories Ling did for Oprah was "Rape in the Congo."
"They were certain that that story wasn't going to get any ratings," she said. "But she sent me to do it anyway."
They grossly underestimated the story's appeal. Ling said.
"I think Matt Damon or Hillary Swank did 8.5 million, but 'Rape in the Congo' did 9 million viewers," she said. "And in one day of television it raised $2.5 million for the organization that helped us meet those women."
It proved to her that Americans do care what's going on in the world, "They just aren't given the opportunity to know," she said.
Toward the end of her speech Ling gave the many journalism students in the crowd encouragement.
"There has never been a better time or a more empowering time for young journalists to take a camera and actually go shoot stories," she said. "If you are truly, truly passionate about telling stories and about becoming mini experts in an array of different topics there's no better job in the world."
Kathleen Huff can be reached at .