It’s dark. You can feel people moving around you although you cannot see them. Then the light flicks on. You are standing on a street corner in Downtown LA next to a food bank. You can see the long line filled with families and people from all different walks of life. You hear the supervisor yelling, “Don’t push,” and “There are too many people!” as she is obviously overwhelmed by the number of people needing to be fed. Suddenly a man collapses in front of you and begins seizing. He has gone into a diabetic coma because he could not get food in time.
From my description, you can probably picture what this experience would have been like. But what if you could be there? If you could see and hear the sights and sounds? If you could feel your adrenaline beginning to pump when the man collapses to the ground and you question whom to call, how to help? With immersive journalism, you can.
But, what exactly is immersive journalism? Immersive journalism uses virtual reality and augmented reality to create a first-person experience of news events either through live shot video or 3D modeling. Users can use their phone, tablet, or laptop to view this content or for a more in-depth experience use a VR headset to see the 360° view of the event.
The situation described above is one of the first immersive journalism pieces to ever be created. Nonny de la Peña, an accomplished journalist and godmother of immersive journalism, along with her intern, Michaela Kobsa-Mark, created Hunger in LA in 2010 before it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012. This was the beginning of a new frontier of journalism that utilizes computer science to put people in the story.
Immersive journalism is currently being used by The New York Times and The Guardian but it is still expensive and under the radar. De la Peña is working on changing that with her immersive journalism company, The Emblematic Group. Their new platform REACH is aiming to make this new form of journalism easier for people to use. This platform allows users to create their own stories by inputting video and text to create immersive stories. This will allow for journalists all over to tell immersive stories without previous coding or technical experience. Until immersive journalism is a more standard form of media, REACH will continue to expand the interest and knowledge of the new emerging industry.
Immersive journalism has the power to transform the journalism industry for decades to come. Its ability to put people in the story allows for greater empathy and understanding of the stories than they could ever receive from text on a page. People can see the glacier ice caps melting, walk the streets of Aleppo in Syria, participate in an abortion protest, experience life in prison, discover remote parts of the world, and live the simple daily lives of millions of people around the world. As journalism continues to face the battle against misinformation and fake news, immersive journalism gives a way to see news in a way you never could before.
In a world that appears more divided than ever, immersive journalism has the unique power to unite us in ways we could have never imagined as we have the opportunity to see how other people live.