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BURBANK, Calif., Aug. 5 — One woman approached China’s border with North Korea as a seasoned foreign correspondent, the other as a sharp editor who was on her first trip abroad in her new role as a producer.

Laura Ling, 32, one of the two American journalists who arrived back in the United States on Wednesday after five months in captivity in North Korea, had reported from Sri Lanka, Iran, Brazil, Pakistan and Eastern Europe, among other places.

“She knows her way around the world,” said Morgan Wandell, who supervised Ling at San Francisco-based Current TV after working with her at another startup, the Channel One news outlet that is broadcast into classrooms. “And she’s a smart, prepared journalist. One of the things I take a little bit of issue with, she’s not a cavalier risk-taker at all. She’s very smart, and while she’s curious and ambitious, she knows her limits, and she’s certainly not a cowboy.”

Euna Lee, 36, had been a standout editor at Current TV, the cable and Web network co-founded by former vice president Al Gore, and was breaking into producing via the route that had worked for Ling a decade earlier: hard work backed by language skills and cultural knowledge that could add immense value to a story that demanded discretion and delicacy. The women had traveled to the Chinese border with North Korea, where they were preparing a report about North Korean refugees.

“It was unfortunately her first assignment,” said Annika Mandel, who was hired as a writer-producer at Current in 2005, about the same time Lee came on as a video editor, the person who ties reports together.

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