As an English student studying journalism, I like to keep up to date with the latest progressions in the field. I do so by reading industry blogs, following journalists and media organisations on Twitter, by simply Google searching for updates or by watching influencer talks on websites such as TED.
It was on the latter that I discovered a talk by journalist Nonny de la Peña on a new form of news reporting that uses virtual reality technology to make viewers feel as though they are on scene, experiencing the story first-hand.
De La Peña said she wanted to report a story “you would remember with your whole body and not just with your mind” and when she began experimenting with the technology she found it evoked “intense, authentic reactions from people”.
By combining the real-life audio with virtual models and scenery, viewers are able to see and hear the scene to experience it in 360° as if they are actually there.
Example of a viewer experiencing a virtual reality. Copyright free image available here.
Following the success of her first project at the Sundance film festival, De La Peña launched Project Syria to put viewers on scene to experience the war that millions are living through everyday. You can watch her TED talk on her work here. For an in-depth description of how she carries out her work and her thoughts on the future of immersive journalism, read this interview with The Creators Project.
With further research into the field, it seems that the use of immersive journalism is building. App makers Immersive.ly created a narrative on the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2014. Describing the virtual experience, Immersive.ly stated that it:
“breaks fresh journalistic ground by providing a news narrative, on a topic of world importance, using live-motion 360-degree video.”
Across the planet, the technology has been used to tell the stories from within refugee camps (Vrse) and on American farms (The Des Moines Register); viewers can experience other parts of the world like never before. Most recently, Sky News employed the 360° technology to report on the refugee crisis on the Greek island of Lesbos; it will be interesting to see how many other news organisations will follow suit.
When considering what makes this virtual reality experience journalism, De La Peña says the basic tenets of journalism prevail if stories are reported accurately as possible to ensure integrity and good practice. If we are to compare it to traditional forms of journalism then perhaps the virtual reality experiences sit closer to feature stories. However, De La Peña actually broke news with her immersive piece on the Trayvon Martin case.
You may be wondering how this form of story-telling translates to everyday users such as you and I that don’t have access to high-tech gadgets. Well, creators such as De La Peña and Vrse have released the stories as apps so all that is needed to be part of the action is a phone or tablet and some earphones.
So do you think immersive journalism will be the future form of story-telling? It’s certainly gaining momentum so it’ll be exciting to see how it will grow from here.
Header image by Chloe D’Costa.