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Virtual Reality Journalism : A new way of story telling

For filmmakers, virtual reality also presents a new way to tackle issues such as police brutality

  • A virtual reality experience that places viewers inside a virtual segregation cell
  • Rather than just watching the action, virtual reality places viewers squarely in the middle of it
  • Virtual reality is quickly emerging as a tool in a journalist’s storytelling arsenal

To capture the experience of being imprisoned in a solitary confinement cell for their readers, editors at The Guardian newspaper collaborated with producers at The Mill, a virtual reality company, to create 6×9, a virtual reality experience that places viewers inside a virtual segregation cell.

The resulting video is unnerving in its authenticity. Incorporating ambient sound and audio excerpts from interviews with former prisoners, viewers experience what is likely to be the closest encounter with solitary confinement that they will ever have, short of visiting prison themselves.

“It was an incredible experience, I was sweating and my heart was beating really fast and it was really upsetting. I found myself tearing up a little bit. … It was a very emotional, physical and mental experience,” said Emilia Petrarca, who watched 6×9 at the Tribeca Film Festival’s “Storyscapes” event in New York City.

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Storytelling tool

For journalists, virtual reality is quickly emerging as another tool in their storytelling arsenal.

“It’s about access,” said Francesca Panetta, special projects editor at The Guardian. “This is access to a space and to an environment that you wouldn’t normally have,” she added.

Rather than just watching the action, virtual reality places viewers squarely in the middle of it. News organizations such as The New York Times and USA Today are discovering it’s a powerful medium for storytelling.

“It just opens the door to another level of immersion outside of just traditional filmmaking and just creates another level of sympathy as well, and empathy for the viewer,” said Jared Vladich, visual effects producer at The Mill.

Picture of the virtual segregation cell.
Picture of the virtual segregation cell. Image source: VOA

For filmmakers, virtual reality also presents a new way to tackle issues such as police brutality.

In “Perspective 2: The Misdemeanor,” viewers experience a violent police confrontation from the perspectives of both cop and civilian.

“You see a heated topic happen from one person’s eyes, sort of build empathy for that character, and then you see it from another person’s eyes,” said Morris May, CEO of Specular Theory, the company behind the film. Filming multiple perspectives required a day’s worth of repeated takes, during which the line between reality and fiction began to blur.

“People thought this accident was actually happening, so we have extras in the film that came by with their cellphones and started filming, not even realizing that this was a film shoot because there’s no camera visible and there’s no film crew visible at all,” May said.

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Generating revenue

In addition to the tricky mechanics of filming, virtual reality productions can be cost-prohibitive.

The Guardian‘s Panetta said, “For journalism, it’s quite expensive. So for a newspaper, which is an industry that its financial model is still being questioned, it’s a very expensive medium.”

At The New York Times, editors have found that partnering with advertisers is one way to generate income on virtual reality projects.

“We think there’s a good business here. Virtual reality is a powerful way to tell stories for journalists, but it’s also become a powerful way for brands to tell their stories,” said Sam Dolnick, associate editor at the Times.

The company has partnered with clients like Tag Heuer and Mini to create virtual-reality experiences that target Times readers.

“We think there’s a potential around virtual reality becoming some kind of premium offer, and whether that’s for subscribers, a new paywall, we’re experimenting, we’re thinking about it,” Dolnick added.

The New York Times has given away more than 1 million basic Google Cardboard viewers to subscribers. A recent virtual-reality experience transported viewers to the top of One World Trade Center with National Geographic photographer Jimmy Chin, for breathtaking views of New York City.

With the new era demanding more from its people,the long-term profitability of virtual reality remains to be seen, and the new medium has journalists and filmmakers pushing the boundaries of storytelling.

-by Newsgram staff with inputs from VOA


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  • Vrushali Mahajan

    Journalism can go even more further! This is one of the biggest discoveries journalism can have. The virtual reality should be encouraged even outside US

Next Story

Virtual Reality Tech Transforming Heart Treatments

However, bulky equipment and low-quality virtual images hindered these developments

Virtual Reality Tech Transforming Heart Treatments
Virtual Reality Tech Transforming Heart Treatments. Pixabay

Virtual Reality (VR)-powered head-mounted wearable devices are leading to new developments in cardiovascular treatment and improved outcomes for patients, researchers report.

The VR technology is helping in cardiac care, includes education and training, pre-procedural planning, visualisation during a procedure and rehabilitation in post-stroke patients.

“For years, VR technology promised the ability for physicians to move beyond 2-D screens in order to understand organ anatomy noninvasively,” said Jennifer NA Silva, Assistant Professor at the Washington University’s School of Medicine in St. Louis.

However, bulky equipment and low-quality virtual images hindered these developments.

“Led by the mobile device industry, recent hardware and software developments-such as head mounted displays and advances in display systems-have enabled new classes of 3-D platforms that are transforming clinical cardiology,” Silva added in a paper appearing in the journal JACC: Basic to Translational Science.

Representational image. Pixabay

VR provides complete control over the wearer’s visual and auditory experience as they interact within a completely synthetic environment, while Augmented Reality (AR) allows the wearer to see their native environment while placing 2-D or 3-D images within it.

Merged reality and Mixed Reality (MR) allow for interaction with digital objects while preserving a sense of presence within the true physical environment.

“These technologies make up the full spectrum of extended reality, which is transforming the practice of cardiovascular medicine,” the researchers noted.

Also Read: Virtual Reality can reduce phantom pain felt by paralysed people

The technology allows patients and family members to better understand their cardiac conditions, helping them to make more informed decisions surrounding their medical care.

Medical students and trainees can better visualise cardiac abnormalities with VR, which allows trainees to simulate operating environments and multiple physicians to interact while viewing the same educational material in a natural environment.

However, the authors said there were still challenges and limitations.

“These technologies are still constrained due to cost, size, weight and power to achieve the highest visual quality, mobility, processing speed and interactivity,” Silva said. (IANS)