Lisa Ling ventures on the Midwest as Bucksbaum Lecturer

Sharing her anecdotes of the Midwest and appreciation for the heartland, critically acclaimed journalist visits Iowa.

On Thursday, Apr. 11, accredited journalist Lisa Ling ventured to America’s Heartland and spent an evening in Des Moines, Iowa, as she presented the 40th Bucksbaum Lecture at Drake University. Ling, currently a host and producer of CNN’s This Is Life, has traveled to every corner of America telling the stories of places that haven’t been touched on yet.


Before her Buksbaum presentation, Lisa Ling held a Q&A session for Drake students and faculty members. Photo by Kalle Sorbo.

Lisa Ling has covered topics and issues across all spectrums, but some of her more notable stories are from when she reported on the Afghanistan’s Civil War as a 21 year old working for Channel One News or when she went undercover as a doctor to get into North Korea to explore their way of living. Despite these life-changing visits and experiences, she still finds value in telling stories from the Midwest. “There’s a reason why this is called the Heartland. There is so much going on here that I think the cities overlook…and when I say cities I mean the coasts.”

There’s a reason why this is called the Heartland. There is so much going on here that I think the cities overlook…and when I say cities I mean the coasts.

Lisa ling

In 2014, Ling and her team traveled to the northwest corner of North Dakota to report on the booming oil industry in Williston, North Dakota. “I had read something about how this oil boom was happening in this tiny, little town with not a lot of infrastructure and how it had been just had been overwhelmed by massive amounts of men,” Ling notes. “In fact, these towns were even considered “man towns” because all the housing was filled with men.” Ling described how her team intentionally decided tell the story of the women there because they wanted to know why they had moved there. “We wanted to know what the conditions were like and what type of jobs they were receiving and they compared to men’s jobs,” Ling says.

Another one of Ling’s more prevalent Midwest stories is “Heroin in the Heartland,” where her team ventured to Richland County, Ohio, to profile a community that has been affected by the heroin epidemic. Although this issue is impacting the entire country, Ling wanted to showcase the “realness” of the issue. “We had heard there were entire families being addicted to heroin,” she says. “We profiled all of them: a mother, a father, and three kids who were all addicted to the drug.” Ling hoped that by highlighting a family she would be able to give people a better understanding of the effects of this issue.

Through her work across the Midwest, the country, and the world, Lisa Ling has developed an appreciation for the people and culture that inhabits the central part of the United States. “We would get a far better sense of the “pulse” of this country…what people are thinking and how they are feeling if we would embed more media throughout the Midwest.”

We would get a far better sense of the “pulse” of this country…what people are thinking and how they are feeling if we would embed more media throughout the Midwest.

Lisa Ling

She stated that if media outlets and news organizations focused more their time on areas like the heartland, to learn more about the people, the culture, and the way of living, then they wouldn’t be surprised when events like the results of the 2016 presidential election happen. She called attention to news outlets and how they need to put more focus on the Midwest. “I would like to see our news do a better job of really getting a sense of what people are needing and what people are wanting to know about.”

Ling emphasized these statements during her Bucksbaum presentation Thursday evening in front of a packed crowd at the Knapp Center on Drake University’s campus. Learn more about Lisa’s presentation here.


Photos by Kalle Sorbo. Video by Erin Morgan.

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