11 Ideas Win First-Ever Journalism 360 Challenge on Immersive Storytelling

Posted July 19, 2017
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This week, 11 innovative ideas for 360 immersive storytelling in journalism were awarded grants for these new projects.

In March 2017, Knight Foundation, along with partners Google News Lab and the Online News Association, launched the Journalism 360 Challenge to advance the use of virtual reality and other immersive storytelling approaches in the field of journalism.

The competition received over 800 applications from around the world. The projects range from innovative new technology to engaging diverse communities around VR and 360 content, to using VR to for data visualization.

VR and 360 immersive video has become one of the hottest trends in video in the past few years. First seen as a sort of novelty, it quickly gained more credibility as companies like Google, the New York Times and others embraced the technology and started producing content for it. Like with many other new technologies and media, however, the earliest works in VR were pretty much like normal video, just with the ability to see behind the camera. That is to say that they told stories in pretty much the same way that stories were told in video before, just with a more static camera and less edits. While this may not have been bad, it certainly wasn't very innovative. It was just video with a larger view.

A new technology like VR gives producers the chance to do something completely different. This is what happens with new technologies though, they are just used in the same way as old technology. What this competition shows, though, is that we are approaching the next step -- when the true innovation happens, and when people and organizations take the chance to try something radically different and unlock a new technology's potential.

According to the announcement from Journalism 360:

The winners, listed below, will receive a share of $285,000 to develop their projects and experiment with best practices, new tools and techniques for virtual, augmented and mixed reality, and 360 video.

Along with developing their early stage ideas, the winners are committed to sharing what they have created and learned with the Journalism 360 community. Journalism 360 was created last fall in collaboration with Google News Lab and the Online News Association to build a network of journalists and technologists who would exchange best practices on immersive storytelling techniques. The initiative was shaped by a 2016 Knight Foundation report, which revealed an opportunity for journalists to use virtual reality and other immersive storytelling tools to connect with audiences in new ways and and change how people interact with news and information.

Here are some of the winners and their ideas from the announcement:

Community and Ethnic Media Journalism 360 by City University of New York ($27,000 | Project lead: Bob Sacha | New York | @bobsacha): Making immersive storytelling more accessible to community and ethnic media through a program that provides hands-on training and access to equipment. The team also aims to produce a “how to” guide for others on using immersive storytelling to cover local happenings, such as festivals.

Immersive Storytelling from the Ocean Floor by the MIT Future Ocean Lab ($30,000 | Project lead: Allan Adams | Cambridge, Massachusetts |@MIT_FutureOcean, @AllanAdamsYG): Developing a camera and lighting system to produce immersive stories underwater and uncover the hidden experiences that lie beneath the ocean’s surface.

Location-Based VR Data Visualization by Arizona State University, Cronkite School of Journalism ($30,000 | Project lead: Retha Hill | Tempe, Arizona | @Cronkite_ASU, @rethahill): Helping journalists and others easily create location-based data visualizations in a virtual reality format. For example, users could explore crime statistics or education data on particular neighborhoods through data overlays on virtual reality footage of these areas.

The Wall by The Arizona Republic and USA TODAY Network ($28,000) | Project lead: Nicole Carroll | Phoenix | @azcentral, @nicole_carroll): Examining the audience engagement power of combining an important national story with new technology by documenting all phases of the proposed border wall between the United States and Mexico. The project would use virtual reality overlaid with relevant data and include aerial video, as well as a series of documentary shorts.

Read the full announcement and list of grant winners from Journalism 360 here.


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