Teaching Students to Report at 3 MPH

By South, Jeff | The Quill, May/June 2016 | Go to article overview

Teaching Students to Report at 3 MPH


South, Jeff, The Quill


WHEN REPORTERS ARE TOLD to take a walk, it's usually because they've ticked off somebody with a tough question.

But that's what Don Belt, retired senior editor at National Geographic, is urging journalism teachers and their students to do: stroll as they troll for untold stories.

Belt helped plan the epic trek across the world being undertaken by Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Salopek, who is tracing the trail of human migration on his Out of Eden Walk. Salopek started in Ethiopia in 2013 and plans to travel 22,000 miles - on foot wherever possible - to the southern tip of South America. (He is currently in Kazakhstan.)

Salopek's odyssey is a prime example of "slow journalism": As he talks to people and immerses himself in cultures along the way, he is filing dispatches, shooting photos and videos, recording audio, tweeting and above all telling universal narratives.

You don't have to go to an exotic land to practice Salopek's techniques, Belt said. Journalists can discover captivating narratives by taking walks in their own communities.

Belt has developed a university course "to teach students to slow down, carefully observe and use the digital tools in their hip pockets to tell the subtle, powerful stories that 'fast' journalists often overlook in the rush to feed a 24/7 news cycle."

Belt piloted his course at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2013 and taught it this year at the University of Richmond. With support from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, he also has developed the Out of Eden Walk on Campus Workshop to help educators teach the idea.

Salopek contributed materials for the curriculum. He also Skypes in from remote locations to talk to students.

In an instructional video, Salopek discusses the lightweight cameras and other tools he carries. But he notes that in ambulatory reporting, digital hardware isn't as important as "an older but much more sophisticated technology - and that's your nerve endings. …

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