National Geographic fellow pursues ‘slow journalism’ project

A new form of storytelling — “slow journalism” — has recently made its way into the media landscape.

National Geographic Fellow Paul Salopek is helping to pioneer this reporting and storytelling approach, which he defines as “journalism that is informed by deep immersion in the story at ground level.”

Paul Salopek | Photo by Becky Hale

National Geographic’s Colby Bishop explains the work he’ll be doing: “Salopek is conducting an experiment in this modern expression of a timeless human pursuit. He’s engaging with major stories of our time at the natural speed of his own footsteps as he retraces our ancestors’ migration from Africa to South America with his Out of Eden Walk. Along the way he’s not just looking for the latest news updates, he’s revealing the texture of the lives of people he encounters: nomads, villagers, traders, farmers, and fisherman who live within front-page stories, but normally don’t make the news themselves.­”

Of course, many journalists don’t have the luxury of spending this much time on a single story or series of stories. But there’s value in creating spaces for this type of reporting, National Geographic editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg says:

“We have to make sure to not lose the ability to stop, to really asses, to do more than regurgitate what’s in a notebook and to try to synthesize and analyze stories for people.”

Other journalists outside of the magazine also see the value in slow journalism. “When you slow down, you create … a fascinating way in for people that they don’t otherwise get,” New Yorker journalist Evan Osnos says in a video about Salopek’s project. “A lot of us, I think, are competing for mindshare around things that are happening so fast that everybody’s trying to get the first jump on it.”

Slow journalism isn’t about “being first”; it’s about being present and patient as you watch a story unfold over an extended period of time.

Longtime journalist Frank Sesno thinks more storytellers should embrace the slow journalism approach.

“It is journalism of the experience, of the journey, more than of the moment, but of the people and of the culture,” Sesno says in the video. “It is an effort to bathe in the story rather than just dash through it.”

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