When virtual reality journalism is effective, it can “transport you somewhere you can’t normally go”, according to Dr Kerrie Davies, a senior lecturer in media studies at UNSW.
The recent arrival of VR/360 video technology in journalism, while not without its challenges, has the ability to immerse audiences within stories, offering a new sense of intimacy with the topic.
“Filming in a 360 environment is a whole new medium, where you think about the viewer as at the centre,” Davies said. “Because 360 captures everything, it’s very hard to control the environment - which is part of its power and beauty.”
'I’ve seen many attempts at using VR in journalism over the last few years and this has to be up there among the most immersive and engaging.'
Davies was reflecting on the recent recognition of UNSW media students’ VR/360: ‘Sky pirates’ are a very human problem, which won the Best Visual Journalism award at the 2022 Ossie National Student Journalism Awards.
Judge Matilda Boseley from The Guardian said the piece involved “brilliant editing” and “immersive storytelling”.
“I’ve seen many attempts at using VR in journalism over the last few years and this has to be up there among the most immersive and engaging. The footage shot by students was used to great effect, the soundscape was beautiful and the reporting itself was interesting, timely and engaging and the use of VR/360 video felt earnt and justified,” Boseley said.
Davies described the coming together of the project as challenging and multi-layered, eventually involving 20 students working as videographers, narrators, story and video editors over a 12-month period.
The project began with students from Davies’ undergraduate media course “Making Virtual Reality Documentaries” developing five story briefs on different aspects of silver gulls’ lives, including behaviour, eating habits and interaction with humans.
From these five 360 video packages, Newsworthy interns Laura Schofield and Andrena Kandiah, drew out two storylines — the first on impact of humans on silver gulls, and the second on the strategy used by Sydney’s Opera Bar to solve their “seagull problem”.
“[The interns] wrote a whole new script that gave a whole other sense of continuity that wasn’t there before,” Davies said. Post graduate media student Surya Urs then edited that script in 360 video. The reimagined video pieces were published in Newsworthy, UNSW’s student journalism news site.
“It was exciting to see such a mature journalistic project emerge from all their work,” said Newsworthy editor Connie Levett. “Especially since it was only the second time the VR course had been taught.”
The students donated the $200 prize money to the Australian Marine Conservation Society.
The visual journalism award was one of five recognitions from the Ossie Award judges for UNSW students. Undergraduate Sanjana Jose won the Best Audio Story (short-form) category for her piece on Australia’s preferential voting system “What minor parties bring to the table”.
Judge Madeleine Genner, a reporter with ABC Radio Current Affairs, said “the script easily hooked the audience in with a good use of vox pops and audio [and] ... left the audience with a better understanding of the topic.”
Claudia McDonnell’s audio story “Welcoming Poles channel war anxiety for good”, was highly commended in the same category.
In the Best Audio Story (long-form) category, Sanjana Jose, Madison Howarth, Vivienne Crowle, and Jacob Sukkienik were highly commended for the “great range” shown in their “sharp, smart, and engaging” series “Let’s Talk Racism: Why we need disruptive solutions”.
Kyle Smitzis was highly commended in Best text-based story - 750 words or less for his comment piece, “Silent’ Aussies left behind in voluntary assisted dying change”.
Davies said it was increasingly important for journalism students to develop skills in more than one storytelling medium.
“You can’t just have one skill,” she said. “Go and do broadcast, go and do podcasting, go and wrangle some social media, write a feature, write a news story, write a blog.
“You’ll always have your strengths and your passions, you have to know what works audio-wise as opposed to what works in text and video.”
- Find the full list of Ossie Award winners for 2022 here.