Immersive Journalism is giving people the opportunity to experience real life events from the comfort of their homes. Pioneers Chris Milk and Nonny de la Peña are professional storytellers and their specialty in virtual reality is changing the way people watch the news. The art of telling stories is one of the oldest pastimes in human history, tracing back to the ancient Australian aboriginal people painting stories on cave walls. This art is constantly evolving, and a new advancement in technology is now gaining popularity. This piece of technology will give everyday people the opportunity to essentially travel anywhere and experience things they could never have imagined. Whether it’s to Syria to learn about refugees escaping the Civil War or under the Eiffel Tower, witnessing the beauty of a French sunset. This technology is called virtual reality and with it, the whole universe is at our fingertips.
Every major technology company is diving into this medium. Google, Facebook, and Samsung are all taking in part of this growing technology and creating their own virtual reality headsets. Oculus VR, a Facebook company, created the first consumer virtual reality headset, the Oculus Rift. The Oculus Rift was crowdfunded on Kickstarter which raised $2.5 million. Samsung has also created a headset, the Gear VR. These products range from about $200-$300.Google created a “cost-efficient” headset, Google Cardboard. Google Cardboard, also jokingly known as the “Oculus Thrift,” is a piece of cardboard folded up so that with a smartphone inserted, it can be used to view virtual reality videos. Although this technology is often used to play video games, Chris Milk and Nonny de la Peña are using virtual reality techniques to their advantage by specializing in immersive journalism.
“Immersive journalism is the production of news in a form in which people can gain first person experiences of the events or situation described in news stories,” says De la Peña. She is a senior research fellow at the University of Southern California and is leading studies in immersive journalism. De la Peña has created many VR experiences such as seeing an explosion in Syria and standing in line at a soup kitchen when a man passes out. Both are computer generated situations that put the viewer in a first person point-of-view that often causes an emotional reaction. These films have won many awards at the Sundance Film Festival and are spreading emotional reactions all over the world.
Chris Milk began his career by making music videos for rapper Kanye West. However, his increasingly inventive passion for film drew him closer to virtual reality. He said in his 2015 TEDTalk, “Film is the same now as it was then…But I started thinking about, is there a way that I can use modern and developing technologies to tell stories in different ways.” So he began developing his own methods of virtual reality through immersive journalism. Milk started working for the virtual reality company, Vrse. Vrse works to make documentaries with 360° cameras. Vrse worked with the United Nations and Samsung to create five films about different events happening all over the world. Their first film was “Clouds Over Sidra”. Milk directed the film in which he followed a 12-year-old in the Za’atari camp in Jordan. With this technology, the viewer is placed directly into the emotion of the film. For example, the viewer can look the protagonist in the eye and also turn around and look at her small hut in the same scene. It makes the viewer feel like they are in the situation, and it can also help cause a more emotional connection than seeing a news covering of it on television.
According to Milk “So, it’s a machine, but through this machine we become more compassionate, we become more empathetic, and we become more connected. And ultimately, we become more human.”