The Faces of Real Journalism

Laura Ling and Euna Lee were imprisoned for entering North Korea while covering the plight of refugees escaping to China.

When we set out, we had no intention of leaving China, but when our guide beckoned for us to follow him beyond the middle of the river, we did, eventually arriving at the riverbank on the North Korean side. He pointed out a small village in the distance where he told us that North Koreans waited in safe houses to be smuggled into China via a well-established network that has escorted tens of thousands across the porous border.

Feeling nervous about where we were, we quickly turned back toward China. Midway across the ice, we heard yelling. We looked back and saw two North Korean soldiers with rifles running toward us. Instinctively, we ran.

We were firmly back inside China when the soldiers apprehended us. Producer Mitch Koss and our guide were both able to outrun the border guards. We were not. We tried with all our might to cling to bushes, ground, anything that would keep us on Chinese soil, but we were no match for the determined soldiers. They violently dragged us back across the ice to North Korea and marched us to a nearby army base, where we were detained.

I was struck by several things in the piece-

1) The precaution they took to protect their sources both before their arrest and during interrogation.

2) Getting the story involved huge risks with little payoff. People here barely care about refugees in the United States let alone halfway around the world.

3) The fact that they may have been set up by the leader of South Korean underground railroad.

4) Their courage.

There’s a lot of criticism directed at journalists these days. ‘The media’, ‘They don’t ask the hard hitting questions,’ ‘It’s all fluff.’

That all might very well be true but like most broad sweeping statements it demeans an awful lot of good people, most of whom we never hear about. I’m put in mind of the adage; for every ant you see there’s a 1,000 you don’t.

Leave a Reply