On Slow Journalism


January 13, 2015—At the Newseum in Washington, D.C., hundreds of journalists gathered to discuss the theory and practice of “slow” journalism, and to hear from one of its most skillful practitioners: Paul Salopek, a National Geographic Fellow who skyped into the event from his current location near Tbilisi, capital of the Republic of Georgia.

Paul’s project, the Out of Eden Walk, is perhaps the best example of Slow Journalism in the world today. Certainly, it’s the most extreme. What other two-time Pulitzer Prize winner would set off on a seven-year, 22,000-mile walking journey around the world, retracing the path of our human ancestors from East Africa to Tierra del Fuego, Chile?

Two years into the project, Paul has produced more than 100,000 words that have appeared either in National Geographic magazine (including as the cover story for the December 2013 issue) or on the National Geographic site dedicated to publishing Paul’s Dispatches.

A companion site, funded by the Knight Foundation, is devoted to exploring the frontiers of digital journalism, and serves as a kind of laboratory for experimental storytelling, including maps, social media, and interactivity of a type that has never been seen, including real-time translations of Tweets and Dispatches in various languages.

The panel (Ann Marie Lipinsky, Curator of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard; Evan Osnos, staff writer at The New Yorker, and Susan Goldberg, Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic) noted that Paul’s following has grown to include many thousands of people all over the world who marvel over the poetry of Paul’s dispatches and cheer him on, with a level of passion and loyalty that most journalists only dream about.

Moderator Frank Sesno, Chair of George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, quoted from one of Salopek’s recent dispatches: “A donkey is a member of the equine family burdened by low self-esteem: a small, modest, long-eared creature from which mules are bred when mated with a horse. In other words, a donkey is the crude base metal from which a superior alloy—the mule—is forged.” As the laughter died down, he wondered aloud about the source of the project’s ongoing appeal.

“Fast journalism is mostly about information,” said Goldberg of National Geographic, who confessed that “Mule-ology” was her favorite of Salopek’s 99 dispatches to date.

“Slow journalism is mostly about meaning.”

For a summary of the event from National Geographic, click here.

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