“Did you always know that you would be a journalist?” one student wondered.
“What was the hardest story you had to write?” another added.
The 16 middle school students from Arlington, VA, were in their second week of investigating global issues as part of the World Affairs Council’s Leadership in Global Affairs workshop at HB Woodlawn High School. They had just begun a two-day workshop with the Pulitzer Center education team and were brainstorming what they wished they could ask a journalist covering global issues. Soon, the group learned that they would not only be meeting a Pulitzer Center journalist, but also conducting their own slow reporting projects that they would share with that journalist. More than half of the students said that they had never reported a story before, but the entire room perked up at the idea of getting to share reporting from their own neighborhoods with a professional journalist.
The students started their reporting projects by exploring National Geographic Fellow Paul Salopek’s Out of Eden Walk, a ten-year project in which Salopek will walk the 20,000-mile path humans are believed to have traveled over 50,000 years from Ethiopia to Tierra del Fuego. As part of the Walk, Salopek explores how taking a slow approach to reporting can enlighten us to small moments that reveal the impacts of larger global issues. Students practiced taking this slow approach to journalism by walking through a room covered in images from the first three years of Salopek’s journey. They worked in small groups to reflect on what they saw in the images, predicted what they thought were the stories behind the images, and then they closely read each image caption to evaluate their predictions. They devised questions they had about the walk and explored a video of Salopek introducing the project to find the answers.
As students dug deeper into Salopek’s reporting by reading the Out of Eden Walk “Milestones,” short reports that Salopek publishes every 100 miles of his journey, they expressed surprise and delight at how he captured moments that could have been so easily be missed or overlooked. A camel resting in a Saudi Arabian desert. A family of Syrian refugees gathered outside of the tent they live in while working as tomato pickers in Jordan. An industrial port on the border of the Caspian Sea in Kazakhstan.
“Does he use a translator?” a student asked.
“How does he get people to trust him?” another wondered.
The students were left with the goal of writing milestones describing moments from slow reporting journeys in their neighborhoods. Two days later, they prepared to present their milestones to Pulitzer Center grantee Allison Shelley.
Shelley, a photojournalist who has received several grants from the Pulitzer Center, met with the students over Skype to discuss her work covering the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. Using the questions the students had devised on their first day of the workshop, she also presented on her career as a journalist and described the challenges she has faced in reporting stories.
“What did you find challenging when you were reporting?” she then asked the students.
“Coming up with a topic,” one person responded.
“Putting the words on the paper,” another added.
In the end, three students volunteered to share their milestones with the group.
Sophia, a seventh grader in Arlington County schools wrote, "The air was hot. The water was cold. And we were all together, which was all that mattered. Sitting by the pool, we reminisced about the last three years together and dreamed about our future apart. One backyard in a quiet neighborhood. One group of people waiting for what’s to come."
Ria, an eighth grader, wrote, "Urban farm. 80 degrees outside. Sweat trickled down my forehead as I painted the wood. Friends laughing as they mixed colors and fingerprints attacked the wood creating memories. Nick spilled paint over my leg. My hands smelled bad and I felt sticky. But this wood will stay there forever and so will the laughing done there."
“I liked looking at the photos and writing my milestone,” one student wrote in her final evaluation.
Others added, “I enjoyed Paul's pics and writing.”
“I liked meeting Allison Shelley.”
“I liked learning about slow journalism.”
Several students agreed to have their milestones included in this blog post. Click on the images above to see their final reports.
Introduce the Out of Eden Walk to your students by using lesson plans built on the Lesson Builder. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like support in connecting your students to a Pulitzer Center journalist.