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EXCLUSIVE: Euna Lee on Becoming a Better Journalist

In a few weeks, former Current TV editor Euna Lee will quietly mark the third anniversary of her March 17, 2009 capture along the North Korea-China border. Much has transpired since then: Bill Clinton; a book; and a move from LA to New York last summer to attend Columbia journalism graduate school.

FishbowlLA caught up with Lee over the weekend upon her return to Manhattan from Washington DC, where she had traveled to film a scene for one of her class projects. Lee is slated to graduate in August from the one-year Master’s documentary program.

Since one of the very best things about Columbia is the caliber of the teachers, we asked Lee to tell us about some of hers. “This semester, I am taking the documentary class with June Cross,” she replies. “She cares for her characters in her films and reminds me of why I am making documentaries, a medium to give voice to the voiceless. She is very strict with journalism ethics, which I also love and respect a lot.”

“Another professor is Judith Matloff, who used to be a foreign correspondent for over ten years,” Lee continues. “Anyone looking to cover a war zone or conflict nations wants to take her class. One day, she brought her bulletproof vest to school. She is one a few people who is honest about how she felt covering dangerous zones. We, as female journalists, often feel the need to be a strong figure in public, but she doesn’t try. Still, her work shows how strong a person she is.”

Lee says the Columbia journalism graduate program feels ten times busier than a full-time job. She is currently juggling four different documentary projects, while her husband, Michael Saldate, is enjoying a similarly hectic Big Apple pace.

“Michael has had more acting auditions in the past seven months than during his entire time in LA (four years),” Lee marvels. “He also wrote a Web series and is about to film it. It is a great, touching and funny story about jobless fathers and I think people will love it.”

Lee reveals that the couple and their daughter Hana are getting a great kick out of the New York subway system, because each trip shines a line on some of the Naked City’s “eight million stories.” Of LA, she admits that of course, she misses the weather, along with friends and the wider variety of Korean restaurants.

Although Lee and former Current TV colleague Laura Ling are both very busy these days, they still occasionally connect, usually by means of random text messages. And come March 17, it won’t be St. Patrick’s Day for Ling and Lee, but rather just – “the day.”

“Whenever I put green on my daughter, I think of the morning of March 17 three years ago,” Lee explains. “The bigger celebration for us as a family each year is August 5, the day of my release. And two days later is Michael and I’s wedding anniversary.”

“I came home from North Korea just in time for our ten-year anniversary,” she adds. “On that day, I especially think of President Clinton and his team, Current TV, Current TV colleagues, my family, friends and all the people who helped us get home. I am still touched.”

While Lee took out student loans, she says proceeds from her book The World is Bigger Now were also instrumental in helping get to this point of academic renewal.

“Thank you to those who purchased my book,” she says. “I wish I was able to work for the past two years, but I needed to recover from the incident and the book advance helped me to stay home for recovery. I wasn’t able to help others as much as I wanted but hope to find a job soon after school so I will be able to. I am ready to go back to work.”

For one of her Columbia classes, Lee started a WordPress blog featuring posts about some of her reporting assignments. To view, click here.

[Photos of Lee, book cover: Facebook, Broadway Books]

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