This week in my Syracuse Emerging Media Platforms class, we dug into 360 and 3D video technology, a completely new topic for me to study.
So far in my journalism career, none of my news stories have been illustrated by 360 or 3D video, but the possibility is intriguing. I remember being fascinated in 2015 to watch The New York Times’ virtual reality film, “The Displaced,” about three children displaced by war, and thought it was quite amazing that the newspaper included a Google Cardboard viewer with each newspaper.
That caused quite a splash. The film won awards, but also prompted Robert Kaiser, a former managing editor of The Washington Post, to complain that the feature wasn’t true journalism because elements of it were staged.
That was a valid question to raise, but I was fine with the ethics of the project because Jake Silverstein, the editor of the Times magazine, who oversaw the project, was transparent, writing that in VR, “a subject may be asked to repeat an action, or wait until the filmmaker is out of sight to complete a task.”
Our task in class this week was to generate some ideas for new types of stories we could best tell in 360. I think if you wanted to show how homeless people in your area live in an encampment, particularly in winter, a 360 video could really immerse the viewers in that experience in a new way. This type of video raises privacy issues, so you would have to have permission to film any of the homeless residents.
This semester, our final project involves doing a field test using some of the emerging storytelling technology such as 360 video. I have two ideas that might work at the University of Connecticut campus in Storrs, where I teach journalism.
Most days on the way to my 8 a.m. class, I stop at Horsebarn Hill, a picturesque drumlin on the edge of campus. What’s a drumlin, you ask? It’s a hill or geological formation created by the last ice age. I look at the view, get out for a quick walk and often take a photo of the sunrise if I’m early enough. Here’s a photo I took on Wednesday, Jan. 31:
Though it was only 14 degrees Wednesday morning, I was among five people who were walking on the hill or who had stopped to take a photo. Horsebarn Hill has many devotees who walk their dogs there, jog and even do yoga at sunrise (when it’s not 14 degrees out.) People love this spot so much that in 2002, an art gallery had a showing of photos of Horsebarn Hill.
One field test I could do would be to buy one of the new 360 cameras like the Ricoh Theta S for about $300, stand at the top of Horsebarn Hill and take a 360 video. My hypothesis would be that it would be a visually arresting way to capture the beauty of the hill and would be the best way to illustrate a feature story about this beloved spot. I would then show it to people and interview them about their feelings about the hill. One person I would interview would be Hartford Courant photographer Mark Mirko, who has taken many beautiful photos there, including this one:
If I could gain access, another cool feature that would benefit from a 360 video is a story about the recent $10 million replacement of the roof of Gampel Pavilion at UConn, home to the storied men’s and women’s basketball teams.
My hypothesis is that a 360-degree video would be a perfect way to show off the newly repaired roof during a game. I could talk to fans and UConn students about what they think of the project that involved the removal and replacement of 2,093 triangular roof tiles, according to the Courant. In the photo above from UConn Athletics, you can see the dark spots on the white roof that needed fixing.
I think either story would showcase the value of 360 video because of the circular nature of Horsebarn Hill and Gampel Pavilion and would test the power of 360 video to engage an audience. Let’s see what Prof. Dan Pacheco thinks.