Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and National Geographic Fellow, Paul Salopek, has announced his ambitious “Out of Eden” project to literally retrace the footsteps of ancient humans, starting in January 2013 in Ethiopia and ending in Patagonia in seven years time.
The “Out of Eden” project begins as the National Geographic Society celebrates its 125th anniversary on 13 January 2013, and is funded by the Society as part of its commitment to exploration and its recognition of the lasting importance of documenting the people and places of our world. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the nation’s leading funder of journalism and media innovation, is supporting Salopek’s use of new storytelling and technology approaches along his ancient route.
Equipped only with what he can carry in his backpack, Salopek plans to walk the route alone except for companions he may meet along the way, collecting video, audio and consistent narrative “core samples” at intervals of 100 miles. Throughout the project he will file online written, video and audio dispatches for National Geographic and longer-format print reporting based on his travels, including at least one yearly article in National Geographic magazine.
Salopek’s goal is to cover the major global stories of our time — from climate change to conflict, from mass migration to cultural survival — by walking alongside the people who live them: cattle nomads, artists, traders, villagers and scientists. Beginning at the birthplace of humanity in Ethiopia and ending in Patagonia, Argentina, Salopek aims to see how this “slow journalism” reveals hidden pathways that link all of our stories. As part of his reporting, he will experiment with interactive cartography, mapping social media conversations regionally, and explore other intersections of new media technology and journalism. Knight Foundation is supporting this experimentation as part of its mission to inform and engage communities through innovative forms of journalism and uses of technology.
“‘Out of Eden’ is a unique project that immediately got us excited about its storytelling potential,” said Chris Johns, editor in chief of National Geographic magazine. “Paul’s style of thoughtful, contextual journalism is important to our understanding of the world — and that alone is a major reason we are supporting him — but the collaborative, experimental nature of the project and the way it helps us to understand how geography impacts the human experience resonate with us as well. National Geographic is delighted to join Paul in his exploration of new technologies and platforms to tell a story that starts in the distant past and brings us into the modern world in a fresh and meaningful way.”
Salopek’s dispatches and mapping can be followed on www.outofedenwalk.com. National Geographic will curate Salopek’s field reporting and describe the walk through interactive cartography, with written, audio and video content organized by location and time. National Geographic will work with MapBox, based in Washington, D.C., and the Knight Science Journalism Fellowship program at MIT to geo-code all elements of the walk’s storytelling.
A cartographic-based laboratory portion of the website, funded in part by Knight Foundation, will experiment with new digital mapping tools that enhance long-form online journalism. One of the centerpieces will be a series of 100-mile storytelling samples Salopek collects across the world, resulting in a narrative transect of human life on the planet at the turn of the millennium.
“Paul’s project is a unique combination of the old and the new in storytelling,” said Michael Maness, vice president for journalism and media innovation at Knight Foundation. “We’re excited to support both his innovative approach to journalism and the creation of new technology to enable it.”
“This idea has its roots in some of the oldest forms of storytelling we know — the wandering bards of ancient Greece and the roving poets or griots of West Africa,” Salopek said. “We’re trying to slow people down, to get them to appreciate global journalism at a more human pace, but we’re using cutting-edge technology to share it.”