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Laura Ling's new beat

The journalist made headlines as a captive, now she's looking ahead to her E! show.

December 08, 2010|Greg Braxton

Noted journalist Laura Ling became an international cause celebre last year when she and colleague Euna Lee were held captive in Kim Jong Il's North Korea for more than five months after being arrested while investigating human trafficking.

More than a year after being released, Ling is marking her return to the airwaves -- landing at the home of a wholly different Kim.

The former investigative correspondent for Current TV's "Vanguard" has joined E! Entertainment, the TV network of former sex tape queen turned scenester Kim Kardashian and other celebrity-oriented series that are snarky ("Chelsea Lately," "The Soup"), gossipy ("E! News Daily") and tawdry ("Kendra," "Married to Rock"). She will debut Wednesday as the new face of "E! Investigates," an offshoot of the signature "True Hollywood Story" with an examination of teen suicides. A report on the struggles of military wives follows on Dec. 15. Future projects have not yet been produced or scheduled.

Sitting in the modest but comfortable Studio City home she shares with her husband and infant daughter, Ling acknowledged that she is an unlikely addition to the E! slate. Her solid credentials and name recognition seemingly would help her pave the way for a job at a network or major cable news outlet. But she maintained that her new partnership is a perfect fit.

"It may seem strange, but this really does connect with my background in documentary storytelling," said Ling, who covered numerous in-depth and topical stories such as slave labor in the Brazilian Amazon, the drug war in Mexico and Internet censorship in China for Current while serving as its vice president. "It gives me an opportunity to reach out to a younger audience that has been underserved, and being here presents a great new challenge for me."

Ling noted that the audience demographic for E!, which is largely female, will be receptive to having more serious fare mixed in with the glitter. "These stories will look at what is going on in their lives -- issues that need more attention than what most news organizations are willing to give," she said. "My passion has always been to reach that audience."

More significantly, "E! Investigates" offered a fresh professional start. Soon after she arrived home, she left Current, became pregnant and co-wrote a book, "Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home," with her sister, journalist and former "The View" host Lisa Ling.

Readjusting to everyday life following her ordeal had its hurdles. "All I wanted to do was spend time with my family," Ling said.

She added that people still ask her how she is doing. She paused before saying, "I really couldn't be better. I feel so blessed -- I have my family and my baby. And so many people have gone through worse things than I went through."

Still, she knows that the horrific experience will always be a part of her. "Yes, I am removed from it," she said softly. "But there's not a day that goes by that I don't think about it. I still have nightmares."

Focusing on motherhood and thinking about the future helped heal some of the emotional wounds: "I spent a lot of time reflecting about what would come next. I knew I was still passionate about journalism, and uncovering issues that needed attention. After more than a year, the timing was right for me to try something new."

At the same time, Cyndi McClellan, executive vice president of program strategy and research for Comcast Entertainment Group, which owns E!, was searching for a host for their investigative series.

"We were really looking for someone who could be not only a spokesperson, but a person who could be identifiable for our audience, a journalist for the younger generation," McClellan said. "Laura was at the top of our list, and we were thrilled when she said she was interested."

Before she joined Current in 2005, Ling worked as a series producer for Channel One News and also co-created a documentary series, "Breaking It Down," for MTV. She has also contributed reports for PBS, "Nightline" and other venues.

Ling said she felt comfortable with the new venture, adding that she felt a personal connection to the teen suicide project.

"I can't say that there were moments during my captivity when I didn't consider suicide," Ling said. "I now see that would have been the biggest mistake I could ever make."

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greg.braxton@latimes.com

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'E! Investigates'

Where: E!

When: 10 p.m. Wednesday

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)

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