Truly immersive journalism takes form in ABC’s virtual reality tour of Syria

virtual reality brings journalism into the 21st century in a major way screen shot 2015 09 18 at 10 00 57 am
Storytelling is at the heart of good journalism. And in the 21st century, the tools available to storytellers are more diverse and more powerful than ever. On Wednesday, ABC News became the first news organization to employ virtual reality in their newscast, taking viewers on a truly immersive journey through Damascus, Syria, an area of the world that remains largely unexplored by the world at large, even though it figures highly in today’s volatile times.

“This rare access also included the streets and historical sights of Damascus, now largely cut off from the outside world,” James Goldston, president of the news network, told his staff in a memo. “[Alexander Marquardt] and his team explored those streets with one of Jaunt’s stereographic cinematic VR cameras, documenting the city’s sites – which include historical treasures now in peril.”

The 360-degree experience was the product of a collaboration between ABC News and Jaunt VR, a studio based in California that specializes in live-action virtual reality productions. By using a device that actually had 16 different cameras mounted  on it, the team was able to “stitch” together several different images taken from several different vantage points, giving viewers a truly unique and highly realistic experience. This new technology “takes our storytelling to a new frontier,” Goldston said, “And I can’t wait to see how you use this new technology to engage our audience in thrilling new ways.”

While the dire situation in Syria served as the debut for the Jaunt and ABC partnership, the news network hopes to employ the same techniques in a number of other major stories throughout the next few months and year, including Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the U.S. and perhaps even the 2016 presidential race.

Though the current history of virtual reality seems to speak more to gaming and to more, shall we say, self-oriented applications (pornography for Oculus, anyone?), the introduction of the technology in investigative, on-site journalism may aid in creating a more powerful, hard-hitting story, and in turn, a more empathetic audience. Dan Silver, who serves as an executive producer of digital at ABC News and as a leader of the VR project, told Digiday, “The way I viewed VR in the places I had seen it — it was, ‘Wow, that’s a pretty landscape, there’s a mountain and there’s someone climbing and now I feel like I’m climbing, yay’ — but I was never emotionally invested.”

But now, Silver says, the potential uses of VR have expanded significantly. “Listen, if we put our talent in [the film] and have them be the guide, you as a viewer are still able to be passive and look around but can also be directed,” said Silver. “Once you start doing that, you’re filmmaking, you’re actively engaging [the audience] and deepening the experience.”

Michael Fasciano, vice president and director of strategy and content at DigitasLB, concurred with Silver’s take on the situation. “I don’t think they’re just doing something to wave a shiny object out there,” he said of ABC’s employment of VR, “It’s actually to help people truly appreciate the stark and dire situation [in Syria].”

Emerging Tech

Alibaba’s Singles’ Day sale smashes online shopping records

The annual online shopping frenzy that is Singles' Day this year raked in $30.8 billion, up from $25 billion last time around. The Alibaba-organized event generates more in sales than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.
Gaming

The best HTC Vive games available today

So you’re considering an HTC Vive, but don't know which games to get? Our list of 25 of the best HTC Vive games will help you out, whether you're into rhythm-based gaming, interstellar dogfights, or something else entirely.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Gaming

Immerse yourself in a new universe with these incredible PSVR games

The PSVR has surpassed expectations and along with it comes an incredible catalog of games. There's plenty of amazing experiences to be had so we've put together a list of the best PSVR games available today.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Emerging Tech

Watch this lab-grown heart tissue beat just like the real thing

A team of researchers in Germany have used stem cells to create a lab-grown human heart tissue which actually beats, as well as responding to drugs in the same way as the real thing.
Emerging Tech

Michigan’s former transportation chief has some advice for wannabe smart cities

After 31 years as Michigan’s transportation director, Kirk Steudle has seen it all, particularly with smart city projects. He spoke with Digital Trends recently about what makes smart cities work, and offers advice along the way.
Emerging Tech

Shipping crate filled with 3D-printing robots may be the future of construction

Autodesk has created a robot-filled shipping container which may represent the future of construction work. The crate contains two robots able to 3D print custom components for building sites.
Emerging Tech

Sticking these tiny needles in your eye may help fight blindness

An eye patch covered in tiny needles sounds like a torture device. In fact, it's a potential new medical treatment for eye diseases like glaucoma and macular degeneration. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Bottle-flipping robots may be the most millennial thing we’ve ever seen

Until drones start vaping, you're unlikely to see anything more millennial than a recent contest in Japan in which robots competed to pull off some seriously impressive bottle-flipping feats.
Emerging Tech

New simulation shows how Elon Musk’s internet satellite network might work

Elon Musk has the dream of building a network for conveying internet traffic via thousands of satellites. A new simulation created by a computer scientist looks at how feasible the idea is.
Cars

Car parts maker ZF is using drones to deliver components to its factories

ZF recently became the first entity in Germany to receive approval to use drones to deliver spare parts, and the company now uses them to deliver parts from its central warehouses to its workshops.
Emerging Tech

Meet the 4K selfie drone that folds like a book, follows you like a paparrazzo

Having a drone that could follow you everywhere while taking high-quality images without crashing has been a flight of fantasy. With ZeroZero's Hover 2, not only can you have a fully autonomous 4K selfie drone, you can have it for $400.
Emerging Tech

These Alexa-stuffed retro phones don’t listen until you take them off the hook

Looking for an Amazon Echo with a cool vintage touch? Los Angeles-based Grain Design is taking old, non-working antique phones and transforming them into amazing Alexa smart speakers.