Lovejoy awarded to Salopek
On November 7, 1837 Elijah Parish Lovejoy became America's first martyr of the free press. Soon after graduation, the 1826 alum of the College worked as an editor of the St. Louis Observer, but his editorials criticizing slavery were unpopular in Missouri. At the time, Missouri was a slave state. After his printing press was destroyed and his home attacked, he moved to Illinois, a free state. Because slavery was illegal, Lovejoy believed he could publish his views safely but as his opposition to slavery grew stronger, his press was destroyed again and again.
Soon after Lovejoy published an editorial condemning the practice of slavery, a mob attacked his press for the fifth time. The mob killed Lovejoy as he tried to extinguish the flames of his beloved press.
Established in 1952, Colby College's Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award "honors a member of the newspaper profession who continues the Lovejoy heritage of fearlessness and freedom," according to the award's website.
The 2009 Lovejoy Award will go to Paul Salopek for courageous journalism. In 2006, while reporting on the genocide in Darfur, Salopek was imprisoned for five weeks on false charges of espionage. He was held in isolation from his Sudanese translator and Chadian driver. He suffered beatings and harsh jail conditions, but refused offers of freedom until he could be sure that his colleagues would be granted the same freedom. "It was terrible...I could not verify that they were not being mistreated," he said. "And for me it really drove home how much we [journalists] rely on these folks...[without them] we would not be able to tell the stories. We would be lost without them."
However, he did say that, "There's no better training for imprisonment than being a foreign correspondent for years...You're watching bad things happen...So when it finally happens to you, when the tables get turned...For me it was 'Ah-hah! So it finally happened'...I was able to finally participate in that story."
Salopek won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for explanatory writing on the human genome project and again in 2001 for international reporting "on the political strife and disease epidemics ravaging Africa, witnessed firsthand as he traveled, sometimes by canoe, through rebel-controlled regions of the Congo," according the prize's website.
He has reported from over 50 countries in the developing world and more than 20 conflict zones. Salopek is a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and a contributor to National Geographic. He is in residence at Princeton University as the McGraw Writing Fellow where he will teach a workshop on foreign corresponding, and will also be continuing work on his book about Mexico, scheduled for publication in 2011.
For his book, he said, "I'm interested in borders in a world that's becoming increasingly borderless...What I hope mostly is that readers will come away with a tale about this notion of nomadism and exile, and what it does to you when you're constantly moving. Rootlessness."
His 1998 Pulitzer in explanatory writing speaks to the beauty and clarity of his work. Salopek gives a richly detailed narrative in his articles, providing his readers a comprehensive understanding to stories that often have a long, difficult and nuanced history behind them.
Articles that are "policy-oriented, sociological topic challenges...people won't read it if you write it in that way...so I try to humanize stories as much as possible," he said.
"I've discovered in my career that people like to read about other people, are more curious about each other... Our internal compasses always turn to human stories. The danger of that though, in a journalism context, is...you end up running the risk of trivializing pretty complicated issues."
Educated as a biologist, his first reporting job was meant to be nothing more than something to pay the rent. "I was hard-up for cash, always," he said, and so he began his career in journalism to pay the rent "with the full knowledge up front that I would be working for a month and moving on."
However, once he started, there was no turning back. "I sort of fell into it by accident, this mission--I think it's more than a job--because I like story-telling...I think stories are what hold us together no matter what your culture or geography. We tell each other stories not just to share information but to remind us who we are...The beauty of that is what has kept me [in journalism] for so long."
Salopek grew up in Mexico, and said he feels most at home in the developing world from which he reports: "I'm like this nineteenth century guy who goes to parts of the world that are still [largely rural]. And there are huge chunks of the world that there are still that way." After his book is done, "I have every intention to return back [to Africa]. Africa has sort of become home."
On Sunday, October 18, Salopek will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree and the Lovejoy Award. He will also give a talk in the Lorimer Chapel at 8 p.m.
"I think today, despite the doom and gloom of things [in the newspaper industry],...I feel we've never seen journalism at a higher level than our time," he said.