ISOJ 2015

Symposium highlights innovations in journalism, virtual reality storytelling

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How will new technologies and forms of storytelling transform the future of journalism?

At the 16th International Symposium on Online Journalism (ISOJ), a conference hosted by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the Moody College of Communication, nearly 400 participants from 40 countries and 70 speakers convened to examine how innovations will affect the craft and business of reporting.

“I’ve been hearing from more and more people throughout the past few years that ISOJ has become their ‘favorite journalism conference,’” said Rosental Alves, founder of the Knight Center and professor in the School of Journalism. “It’s my hope that our combination of scholars, media practitioners and insights into the profession and innovations of journalism continues to bring us more of that acclaim.”

Among these innovations, experiential storytelling was a topic of excitement at the symposium. The use of “virtual reality journalism,” or the use of immersive 3-D devices for experiential storytelling, adds to the visceral experiences of users as it heightens senses through mesmerizing 360 degree views and intense audio, similar to experiencing an event in its location, real-time.

At the conference, a demo room was set up so participants could experience improvements in virtual reality (VR) technology. The demo room showcased equipment from Google Cardboard and Oculus Rift and content from immersive journalism VR company Emblematic Group and Gannett Digital.

Virtual Reality Storytelling at ISOJ 2015 from Moody College of Communication on Vimeo.

Users were encouraged to take home a Google Cardboard device, a 3-D viewer compatible with any smartphone, which allows for viewing VR content online or through apps downloaded off iTunes or the Play Store, usually for free. Once a clip is played, users may view the story in 3-D through the Google Cardboard viewer, which holds smartphones in place using Velcro attached to the viewfinder. Several other VR headsets are already on the market ranging from low-cost cardboard devices to sophisticated custom-fit headgear.

Ray Soto, 3-D creative lead for VR product at Gannett Digital, attended ISOJ to introduce the company’s app VRstories and some of the company’s content. Soto said VR has the ability to deliver unique storytelling in the field of journalism to provide a new experience or critical reflection of an event when or as it happened.

“We’re striving to take great developers in the virtual reality field and match that with great storytelling,” said Soto. “I’m really excited about what this platform provides and where it can take us.”

Emblematic Group also demoed their content through an Oculus Rift 3-D headset, which allowed users to walk around in a confined space in the demo room while experiencing virtual visual and audio of selected vignettes. Scenes included watching rations being passed out at a food shelter, experiencing life at a refugee camp, and walking down a street in Syria shortly before a bomb explodes.

Emblematic Group has done several stories recreating alleged crimes using actual audio and video of controversial incidents involving police, the torture of inmates at Guantanamo Bay and the death of Trayvon Martin, among others.

The Moody College is already home to several new initiatives using 3-D and VR platforms.

The Department of Radio-Television-Film has launched the “Immersive Media” class where students learn to create virtual reality and stereoscopic 3-D content using spherical photography in the real-world and combining it with computer-based animation, allowing for a “virtual directing” environment. All content created in the class will be intended for use on head mounted displays such as Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard.

Additionally, the School of Journalism has been awarded a grant by the Knight Foundation to prototype an open-source virtual reality publishing framework for journalists who lack the engineering skills to publish their own.  

ISOJ 2015 was generously ponsored by Knight Foundation, Google, Dallas Morning News, Omidyar Network, Scripps Howard Foundation and Univision in addition to the Moody College of Communication. The next ISOJ will be held April 15-16, 2016. 

Marc Speir
Senior Content Producer