Susie Blair has been a Research Assistant for the Out of Eden Learn project since the summer of 2015. As a Research Assistant, she helps organize and collect student work, conducts research with the project’s principal investigators, manages the project’s social media accounts and creates resources for participating educators. She holds a B.A. from Northeastern University in Journalism.
What initially attracted me to journalism was a love of stories—reading them, telling them, and sharing them in innovative, compelling ways. Throughout my undergraduate career, I explored this fascination in radio, web and print newsrooms. While these different mediums all lend themselves to different modes of storytelling, they all move fast. I worked at a weekly paper, then later, a daily global news radio program. Deadlines were rigid, editors were tough, and the stories we told needed to be thorough yet captivating.
This intense and rapid cycle of researching, writing, editing, re-editing and publication is a requirement of these sorts of newsroom environments—breaking stories are often important and time sensitive and need to be disseminated quickly. But it is also a taxing process that often leaves room for error, misjudgment, and—at worst—neglect of other perspectives. And this propensity for all things fast extends beyond newsrooms—it also affects how we (the audience) consume news.
Because of our global culture’s growing appetite for instant information, it is inevitable that some important stories will get overlooked. Furthermore, some stories simply take more time to tell than many news formats allow. Paul Salopek’s journalism is intentionally slow and serves as a counter to the ever-quickening pace of global news. What is relevant to me as a research assistant on the Out of Eden Learn project is how Paul’s slackened pace—and our curriculum’s emphasis on adopting a slow and intentional approach when learning, looking and listening—affects young people, who are undoubtedly influenced by our global culture’s 24-hour news cycle and the constantly scrolling feeds of social media.
Although media literacy and journalistic writing are not specific learning goals of the Out of Eden Learn curriculum—nor is the role of media in young people’s lives part of our research agenda—many of the project’s core philosophies are naturally synergistic with these topics. For instance, I have been working with Project Co-Director Shari Tishman to explore how learners are understanding and engaging with slow looking, a hallmark of both the Out of Eden Learn project and Shari’s many years of research at Project Zero. While slow looking may have intrinsic value as a cognitive skill, what is particularly and personally interesting to me is how this skill could be applied to media consumption. With Out of Eden Learn, students are invited to engage with Paul’s dispatches at the speed at which the writing moves—that is, slowly. Students learn about lived experiences of people from around the world, who tell their stories—stories that don’t often get told—at a conversational pace. Then, students become slow journalists themselves by interviewing their neighbors, documenting slow walks around their neighborhoods and sharing their everyday lives. Out of Eden Learn doesn’t forgo technology as a means to relieve us of our fast-paced and plugged-in lives. Instead, we encourage learners to use these technological tools to become thoughtful observers and storytellers of the world.
It is apparent from the inspiring and insightful pieces of work posted on our platform that students are learning to slow down and report back thoughtfully to their walking partners. Also, student feedback shows how learners are engaging deeply with their communities, schools, and even the wider world as seen through Paul’s journalism and the other resources we suggest they explore (Global Lives Project, Global Oneness, etc.) One student puts it like this:
Places outside of where I live are not in any way less important or worse. The news always talks about war and destruction in other countries but I have learned to see beyond that. Paul’s milestones and up close experiences with towns and people show that there is a much more positive, natural way of life happening in other places on earth than we realize. – 12-year-old Out of Eden Learn student ImBatman21, Los Angeles, California, United States
A particular insight I found from analyzing student feedback (a major facet of my current research) is that students are realizing that not all stories need to be told and consumed at a rapid pace. Some stories—arguably some of the most important stories—take time, patience and careful attention to tell, as ImBatman21’s classmate waterpolo21 explained:
I learned that every place and the people’s stories in that place can be very different. When you really see the places and stop to really look at them it is really interesting to see where they live and to hear the stories told. – 12-year-old Out of Eden Learn student waterpolo21, Los Angeles, California, United States
A question raised by my research thus far is this: In what ways are students not only becoming slow storytellers themselves, but also learning to become more careful and critical consumers of stories? For instance, after participating in Out of Eden Learn, how are students’ understandings of global news stories becoming more nuanced? Are they engaging with these stories on a deeper, more personal level by slowing down? Are they looking more critically at stories, considering the source, and wondering which perspectives may have been left out (unintentionally or otherwise)? What can we learn from Paul’s other education partner, the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, about supporting students to become more curious and thoughtful news consumers?
I realize these are not easy questions for us to answer. Slow journalism is very much an emergent field and it is possible that Paul’s dispatches are the only lens students have through which to glimpse the wider world in this slowed-down fashion. However, I find it very exciting to think that our work may be combating the problematic “instant gratification”-style media that young people (and, let’s face it, all of us) are inundated with. While it is important to encourage an appetite for news media (which will always include breaking stories that need to be spread quickly), it is equally important to nurture an appreciation of something that inspires many journalists to join the profession—a motivation to slowly uncover stories and share them thoughtfully with others.