Last month, the former Chicago Tribune reporter embarked on a solo 21,000-mile walk that will trace the path of human migration from Africa, through the Middle East and Asia, across the Bering Sea to North America, and down the western coast of the Americas to the tip of South America. He anticipates the journey will take seven years.
The project — called Out of Eden — is funded by the National Geographic Society, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will support Salopek’s use of new storytelling and technology approaches. For example, a cartographic-based laboratory portion of the website will experiment with new digital mapping tools that enhance long-form online journalism.
Salopek said he will carry as little as possible in his backpack, including notebooks, writing utensils, a camera, and a laptop to file online written, video, and audio dispatches to his editors back home. Though he won’t be using Twitter or Facebook for any real-time updates, he said there are social media feeds on both outlets that will keep followers plugged into his journey.
After working many years as a foreign correspondent, where he traveled back and forth from country to country, Salopek said Out of Eden gives him the opportunity to explore what he calls “slow journalism.”
In an industry that is focused on digital and instant news, Salopek said he wants to create meaningful stories. He said the common news story’s structure is centered on how much time a reader stays on a website, where a reader is engaged “only for eight seconds, then they click away.” Although he will be using new technology on his assignment, he said the project will “slow people and my own journalism down.
“It will give people an intellectual oasis, where they can step out of the river of information and give them an island of contemplation,” Salopek said.
With the “world as his palate,” Salopek said he will report on a variety of topics from environmental issues, to language and culture, and science and human adaptation. Along the way, he will stay with a network of colleagues — from school teachers to farmers — he has met over his years working as a correspondent.
Salopek said he expects the first two months to move at a quicker pace, because he will be filing stories weekly in order to give readers “a taste” of his reporting. Longer, more in-depth pieces may take a month to complete. “It depends on the human typography; that will vary,” he said. “And there will be periods of quiet.”
Salopek expects to face a few challenges on the road, and he isn’t a stranger to them. While on assignment in Sudan in 2006, he, his interpreter, and their driver were detained for more than a month, charged with espionage. In addition, his work has taken him to the Middle East, Central Asia, and Latin America.
“I keep reminding myself that I’ve been doing this my entire life,” he said. “It’s the continuation of a pre-existing condition.”
For more information, visit outofedenwalk.com.