Journalist steps back in time

By Anastasia Kaiser

Paul Salopek, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and National Geographic fellow, spoke about his upcoming trek across the world at a lecture at International House on Monday night.

Salopek plans to shadow the first human who migrated out of Africa some 50,000 years ago in a seven-year adventure that will begin in the Horn of Africa and conclude in South America. As he retraces the journeys of our ancestors, he plans to capture stories other journalists have missed in a pioneering form of journalism he calls “slow journalism.” In addition to uncovering the effects of climate change, poverty, and armed conflict, Salopek plans to explore the enduring strength and resilience of our ancestors.

Salopek’s conception of slow journalism was born out of his frustration with conventional forms of foreign reporting. He explained that foreign news correspondents are often parachuted into conflict zones and have little time to appreciate the nuances of local culture and history, whereas others become too invested in the story of its people. As a reporter for the Chicago Tribune and National Geographic, Salopek says that he has experienced both of these extremes and his journey on foot across 39 countries will allow him to avoid both biases.

For Salopek, the physical act of walking across the world also adds a unique element to his reporting. “I love storytelling and I love walking. Some of the best stories that I’ve accomplished in my career overseas have involved intense physicality. They have involved muscular reporting.”

Salopek’s own career began on foot, when his motorcycle broke down in New Mexico, leading him to start writing for a local newspaper in order to earn enough money for repairs. He has since won two Pulitzer Prizes for his coverage of Africa and the Human Genome Diversity Project.

Salopek will employ a wide array of technological devices in order to catalog his travels. Every 100 miles of his trip, Salopek will pause to capture photographs, video, and the ambient sounds of the landscape around him. National Geographic offered to send a team to accompany Salopek on the journey, but he opted to do this alone, claiming that solitary travels produce the highest quality storytelling.

Former Chicago Tribune publisher and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jack Fuller moderated the discussion. The event was co-sponsored by UChicago Careers in Journalism, the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, the Center for International Studies, and the Program for the Global Environment.