wo-time Pulitzer winner and National Geographic explorer Paul Salopek is on a 10-year walk from Ethiopia in Africa to the tip of South America to gather the untold stories from refugees, farmers, and nomads that journalists tend to ignore.
His 33,780 km Out of Eden walk which began in 2013 is inspiring budding journalists all over the world to open their eyes to the stories unfolding all around them in their own neighbourhoods and become storytellers themselves.
The Pulitzer-winner tracing the path that ancient humans took while migrating out of Africa to the rest of the continents way back in the Stone Age.
The incredible stories he has collected read like a modern fairytale, each chapter connected to the next as he moves from village to village guided by the characters he meets on the way.
Salopek conducted a free workshop for young journalists in New Delhi earlier this year. Interested journalists needed to submit an application and a portfolio of work to an online registration form.
The 4-day Chennai workshop was held on September 4-7 while the 4-day Kolkata workshop is planned for November 13-16.
Journalism learning projects in partnership with Out of Eden
Salopek has been walking for five years now and since the time he started the project, he knew there would be a learning element in this. He figured that taking kids on a long walk was a great way to get children interested and aware of current events, and also become better global citizens.
“So you grab them by the hand and take them on a digital storytelling walk like their uncle would take them for a walk around the neighbourhood. But now, we can take them across the world,” says the explorer in a conversation with India Today Education.
“They write essays, they take walks around their neighbourhood, they often work on themes like immigration, migration of the environment, and they share them saying things like ‘Hi, I am from Delhi, from a secondary school. I am walking around my neighbourhood and this is what I saw’,” Salopek explains.
How young storytellers can do away with tainted, second-hand news
Paul Salopek’s project encourages young children and journalism students to walk around their neighbourhood and be storytellers themselves instead of just having conversations on various topics on the internet.
They can then share their story with someone doing something similar in Mexico or Australia, and the reverse happens as well.
This enables people to get unbiased news straight from the source and free from any news contamination that often happens when it is running through various red tapes and middlemen.
Moreover, it teaches children to record the environment and not just speak to people of their own age, but also younger and older generations — not just from their own community but around the world. The platform of Out of Eden Learn provides them with the tools to use Salopek’s work as a launching pad and become storytellers themselves.
“It is not the usual interface where the communication is binary — either yes or no, like or unlike, thumbs up or thumbs down — there is much more analysis which gets them to do critical thinking, gets them to develop narrative skills,” says Salopek.
Out of Eden stories are part of North American schools
Salopek’s project has yet another partner — the Pulitzer Centre on Crisis Reporting — which takes the work he is doing and shares it in a much more formal way through curriculums in North American schools.
“This is also an immense learning tool for children as they can tap into the source information I am collecting from Ethiopia or Rajasthan and add it to their global history, English, Geography or Sociology lessons. I am like their correspondent,” says the journalist.
How Salopek’s reporting is used in university-level journalism departments
Out of Eden has a fourth partner Don Belt who is doing University Outreach. He takes the work of Out Of Eden and plugs it into journalism departments at the university level, so that kids become interested in foreign corresponding, or community-based journalism.
“They use the Walk methodology to tell stories of their own communities using their own campuses, or the communities around the campuses as laboratories,” he says.
“I am tapping into an existing branch of journalism, using my own work to say that ‘here — this is a different channel, like a tributary of the giant media river – it’s global, integrated, cross-cultural, human-oriented, and literary,” Salopek adds.
How the Out of Eden walk is inspiring kindergartners
There are around 50,000 kids following the ‘Out of Eden Walk’ who are kindergarteners. And Salopek says they are “switched on” as they ask fantastic questions even at this young age.
“The younger we get to people with our stories, the more impact it creates. I think it is too late by high school, or secondary school. I say start at kindergarten,” says the explorer.
What does Salopek teach at the Out of Eden journalism workshops?
Pulitzer winner Paul Salopek notes that there is a vast and bottomless ocean of content on the internet and “most of it is pure junk”.
“So we’re encouraging journalists at our workshops to slow down — to spend days instead of minutes on a story — and craft something unique and of value to readers, something that their competitors who merely rewrite press releases cannot hope to match: stories with meaning as well as just information,” he says.
This is a tough thing to do in 24×7 news environments and most media houses complain they cannot afford such a luxury. However, Salopek’s co-teacher Prem Panicker states something very important — posting a million nano-headlines a day will make your news package exactly resemble everyone else’s.
Panicker also notes that robots are quickly replacing human reporters, and news stories which do not offer some value-added information — including thoughtful longer-form narrative reporting and photojournalism — are simply not going to work anymore in the recent future of journalism.
Thus, the long-form ‘luxury’ news articles may not be able to get a million views, but these kinds of details reporting makes the publication stand out and can even influence public discourse at a policy level.
“In my own career, I’ve written literally thousands of news stories. But it was the ‘slow journalism’ pieces that often had the most impact — whether by shining a light on arms trafficking in Africa to getting the official to install water-purifying technology on arsenic-laden wells in Bangladesh,” says Salopek.
At the Out of Eden workshops, journalists are trained on how to write in the narrative style — how to use all of our senses, how to listen, how to think before writing (not vice-versa) and most importantly, how to dig under the superficial surfaces of news stories.
“The workshop teaches them how to get at the deeper, often complex reasons and motivations driving current events, whether they are gender issues, economics, Bollywood, or mass migration,” says the Nat Geo explorer.
What happened at Salopek’s free journalism workshop in Delhi?
The Delhi-based workshop was open to only about 20 attendees, mostly young and mid-career journalists-both reporters and photographers-and were hosted at the offices of Caravan Magazine.
With one-on-one mentoring by veteran journalists Don Belt, Prem Panicker, Arati Kumar Rao and Paul Salopek, the attendees were assigned to find a nationally significant story within walking distance of a central geo-located coordinate in Old Delhi.