While working for the Chicago Tribune, Salopek won the Pulitzer Prize twice for individual work. Jailed in 2006 Salopek endured beatings and refused to eat until he was reunited with his Chadian driver and Sudanese translator. “As terrible as that experience was,” he said, “and never to downplay those fearsome days, I must be honest in saying that what happened to me pales in comparison to the travails of the reporters I’ve worked with throughout my career in the developing world.”
His 15 years as a foreign correspondent, he said, were the best preparation for his own internment. “After interviewing and debriefing scores if not hundreds of victims of torture, refugees, hunger victims, you name it … what always has stuck [with] me in my reporting is that even the people we deem victims, the most abject kind of victims, are really strong. And I think that lesson helped me get through, because finally the camera had turned on me.”
Despite all he has been through, Salopek did not hesitate to recommend this kind of work to aspiring journalists. “If you’re interested in immersing yourself in the wild and woolly world, you’re talking to the wrong guy asking for cautions,” he said. He encouraged them to go to the developing world. “With the census bureau estimating that the U.S. will be a minority-majority country by 2042, largely due to immigration, I would advise any ambitious young reporter today not to head to Washington or to London to launch a career but to light out for the south, because that’s where the global narrative is rapidly taking shape,” he said.
Full audio of Salopek’s speech, which includes details of his imprisonment, is online.