In an age where technology is ever growing, journalists must learn to grow and adapt with it. One way in which journalists are starting to expand their audiences and deepen their connection with their audience is through the use of virtual reality.
Virtual reality is a three-dimensional, computer generated environment which can be explored and interacted with by a person. Walking through a VR environment, the user should feel as though they are actually experiencing what is being simulated – an important aspect of VR for journalists hoping to capture a scene effectively.
Toronto and L.A. based, The Secret Location is considered to be ‘on the frontline’ of VR, as they have recently won the first ever Emmy Award for a VR project. Although there is not yet a category for VR in the Emmys, Secret Location were nominated for a VR documentary they produced with Frontline PBS and Tow Center titled Ebola Outbreak.
— Secret Location (@secretlocation) 25 May 2016
Secret Location also worked with Frontline to produce a 360-degree video on Superstorm Sandy, which was posted to the Frontline Facebook page in June this year. The video shows Diane and Nick Camerada, who survived the storm in Staten Island in 2012, recounting what happened that night as they show the damages of what occurred.
Another type of VR journalism is the idea of Immersive Journalism. This is news in the form of first-person experience where the audience is a part of the event or situation being reported on. Emblematic Group is the company behind this idea: more specifically their CEO, Nonny de la Peña.
Nonny de la Peña is a former documentary journalist who’s been using VR to create simulations of real-life events such as the war and refugee crisis in Syria to hunger on the streets of L.A., with astounding results. De la Peña spoke to Caleb Garling from Wired.com and said:
“We showed up at Sundance with Hunger in L.A. and we didn’t know how people were going to react. But people were just bawling. They were crying. I can tell you that it was the most emotional I’d ever seen people be in any of the pieces I’d worked on.”
In 2014, de la Peña presented Project Syria, which was displayed at the World Economic Forum in January of the same year, with the “idea of compelling world leaders to act on this crucial issue.” This type of storytelling is incredibly effective at helping the audience create a deeper connection and emotional response than the traditional forms of reporting as it puts them in the place of what they’re hearing about.
Using VR as a means of news reporting has definitely given storytelling a whole new meaning as it has enabled journalists, and their audiences, to truly experience the stories that have been created. Although VR is not suited for every news story, there are events that journalists will come to realise are ideal to be presented in VR. This new means of storytelling will allow journalists to widen their imaginations, and potentially the world’s minds too.