Virtual reality camera lets students enter 'new frontier'

Photos by Michael McKisson

Above: Students (from left) Tanner Clinch, Christianna Silva, Kendal Blust and Jenny Hijazi show off the J-school’s new 360-degree camera rig (between Silva and Blust) at the All Souls Procession.

Below: Students try out the new camera on the UA Mall.

Just writing a story about the All Souls Procession would fail to do the downtown event justice.

Luckily, Professor Michael McKisson’s multimedia students and the new UA Online News Association student club recently completed a Kickstarter campaign to buy a 360-degree video camera to create immersive virtual reality journalism projects.

And their first major assignment came at All Souls, where thousands of face-painted and costumed participants walk through downtown in a 2-mile procession that ends with the burning of a large urn filled with the hopes and wishes of the public for those who have died.

“Reporting the procession in 360 was a really cool experience in new styles of reporting,” grad student Jennifer Hijazi said. “Everything from planning shots to troubleshooting equipment issues was new and unexpected; it was all the more interesting to accomplish it at such a fast-paced event.”

Immersive journalism uses 3D environments to convey the sights, sounds and feelings of the news, requiring “readers” to wear virtual reality goggles.

 “Immersive journalism allows us to put viewers in the middle of the action and lets them experience the news as if they were there,” McKisson says. “It helps create empathy in the viewers.”

The club raised about $3,000 and the school matched $2,500 to buy the equipment. Students experimented with the camera on the UA Mall before the Nov. 8 All Souls Procession. Students plan to do more immersive stories around campus and Tucson and on the border.

“Virtual reality journalism is the next frontier in storytelling,” Hijazi said.

McKisson is starting a Digital Media Innovation Lab to allow students and professionals to create unique journalism projects.

“We want to create a place where student and professional journalists, as well as computer programmers, can brainstorm and work together to create new ways to tell stories,” he said.

McKisson and the School of Journalism also are partnering with the Arizona Daily Star on “News Hack Arizona,” a data visualization and coding hackathon, to coincide with the launch of the school’s Digital Media Innovation Lab.

News Hack Arizona will take place Jan. 30-31 at the UA. Go to www.facebook.com/newshackarizona for details.

Published Date: 

11/09/2015 - 1:51pm