Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist to report on foot for seven years

| News Editor
Courtesy of CBC News

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Paul Salopek will spend the next seven years of his life walking through 39 countries. In an experiential journalism project called “Out of Eden,” Salopek will trace the theorized path of the first migration of humans out of Africa more than 50,000 years ago.

He will speak to students about his upcoming journey in an open event on Thursday, Nov. 1 at 5 p.m. in McDonnell Hall, room 162. He will also speak Saturday, Nov. 3 as a part of the Sustainable Cities Conference.

He was invited to St. Louis by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in conjunction with the Department of International and Area Studies, whose thematic focus of research and teaching for the past three years has been migration.

“The idea that he’s tracing the earliest migration route of man fits in quite neatly with what we’re doing at a curricular level,” Sara Baker, coordinator for International Programming for International and Area Studies, said. “If you look at what our students are interested in, they’re interested in climate change, they’re interested in people around the world, different cultures and storytelling. And Paul’s project really takes all of that into account.”

Salopek, who grew up outside the United States and worked as a foreign correspondent for more than a decade, said the idea for the project evolved in response to his interests and skills.

“The walking part is a natural fit,” he said. “I was raised in the developing world, in Mexico, in a community that was not fully industrialized already. I grew up walking a lot, with campesinos and farmers and people who used their legs the way human beings are designed to move.”

Beginning in eastern Africa in January 2013, Salopek will travel through the Middle East, Central Asia, China and Russian Siberia. He will cross to North America by boat, and then work his way down to the southernmost tip of South America.

Along the way, Salopek will be reporting on conflict, the environment, resource use and other issues in the communities through which he passes, which are topics he has covered around the world for more than a decade.

He plans to be walking about 185 days of each year, spending the rest of the time with families and people in the communities and stopping en route to report and write for anywhere from a few days to a few months. His schedule, he said, will be largely open-ended.

“There’s going to be a significant amount of down time,” Salopek said. “It’s just not psychologically sustainable to be moving constantly.”

Salopek’s mission and reason for the project, he said, is to educate people and offer them an alternative form of news.

“What I’m hoping is to basically give readers and viewers an opportunity to slow down,” Salopek said. “It doesn’t provide all the answers…but it at least gives you some coherence in how current events affect our lives by using deep history…and then using that deep history as a sounding board for the current events that I see happening around me.”

“On this journey of rediscovery, we add, hopefully, a layer of meaning to the news that isn’t there in the more conventional press,” he added.

Salopek also hopes that by reporting on foot, he’ll be able to illuminate stories that otherwise might not be told.

“The journey is a lot about…untold stories that people have missed because we’re all flying over the stories, you know. We’re taking airplanes from story A to story B, and we miss what’s in between, which might be more important than stor[ies] A and B,” he said.

Salopek will be publishing online along the way, via both a National Geographic web portal and his own personal site.

“The idea is to inhabit the news with the people whose lives the news is affecting,” he said.

Professor Tabea Linhard, who is teaching a freshman seminar on migration this semester, will moderate a discussion with Salopek after his presentation.

“What I think is very interesting about Paul Salopek’s project is that, with his seven-year-long walk, he will do two things that people have been doing since the beginning of time, which is moving and walking…and telling stories about it,” she said.

Linhard said the discussion of migration comes at an important time as well.

“This might in one way or another influence our campus-wide discussion or conversation about migration, especially so close to the election,” Linhard said. “Considering that the elections are next week, it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the audience members will have questions about immigration and the role that immigration plays in this political climate also.”