Laura Ling already has had her ultimate homecoming, but her new job is a homecoming of another sort.
After 140 days of captivity in North Korea last year, the journalist gets back to television work as the new host and principal correspondent of the E! Entertainment Television series "E! Investigates" starting Wednesday, Dec. 8. Topicality clearly is on Ling's mind: The first program is about teen suicide, followed a week later by one on military wives.
"I really just wanted to hibernate for a little bit and get my bearings back," Ling explains. "I knew I was still passionate about reporting; that never changed, but I just felt it was the right time when E! presented kind of a golden opportunity in which I could continue to reach a younger audience about issues affecting their lives."
Teen suicide certainly would be among them, given some much-reported incidents recently.
"I was at my hotel in Miami, getting ready to interview a young woman who had attempted to take her life," Ling recalls, "when the news of (Internet-exposed Rutgers University freshman) Tyler Clementi hit the airwaves. It just really underscored what a huge issue this is.
"At a school in Cincinnati, I interviewed about a dozen students, and nearly every one of them has been depressed at some point in their lives. Some had contemplated suicide, and young people need to know that is not an answer and that there is hope."
The Lifetime series "Army Wives" may be the public's widest identification with military spouses these days, but Ling maintains the reality is a saga all its own.
"Many of these women are in their early 20s ... and I don't want to say just women. Some of those spouses are men. All of them are going through ups and downs along with their partners who are in the military.
"More and more troops are coming home with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)," Ling adds. "We hear a lot about that in the news, but we don't hear about the husbands, wives and partners who have to go along with them. They often experience secondary trauma, in their own form, because of this roller coaster."
Ling believes her own experiences are informing the work she's doing for E!
"I don't want to say that I didn't before," she says, "but I think I have a greater appreciation of every second that I have. When I get the opportunity and the privilege to meet some of the people we have met along the way, I feel fortunate that they are opening their lives to me. I take that very seriously."
Once home from North Korea, after a diplomatic effort involving former President Bill Clinton freed Ling and Euna Lee -- then a Current TV colleague with whom she was detained on charges of trespassing and "hostile acts," then sentenced to 12 years of hard labor -- Ling undertook two projects: having her first baby with husband Iain Clayton and writing a book with sibling and fellow journalist Lisa Ling, "Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home."
"I was a little bit unprepared for the type of attention we received," Ling recalls of her and Lee's return. "There I was, isolated in the most isolated country in the world, and I didn't really realize the type of reaction our homecoming would get. I am amazed by just how generous people are.
"I'll go down the street and people will say, 'I prayed for you.' I feel so incredibly humbled by that ... and I feel blessed every day to be home."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun