Disfellowshipped Is Investigative Journalism Adapted To Immersive Media

by Charles Singletary • December 1st, 2016

News outlets like USA Today and Huffington Post have turned to 360-degree media to add a new layer to reporting in recent months. Though interesting, both works are just brief looks into various topics. Investigative journalism is a deeper dive into specific topics and The Center for Investigative Journalism, also known as Reveal, is using immersive media to pull viewers right into the story.

Disfellowshipped follows a journalist’s investigation into allegations of child abuse taking place among Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The process that led to Disfellowshipped started back in May of 2015 when the VR start-up Vragments started work on the Fader tool. With Fader, the dev group wanted to provide journalists an easy way to integrate virtual reality into the reporter’s work loads. Fader works by allowing the journalists to create specific story points and allow viewers to explore them in virtual spaces while also adding additional elements in post-production. In the early stages of development, they turned to Trey Bundy’s investigation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and he broke down the story he wanted to tell into three parts.

The story focuses on Debbie McDaniel, a young woman who was exiled from the Witnesses by the very person that had abused her for five years. The 360-degree visual takes you through her story and her hometown of McAlester. The experience isn’t just one long 360-degree recording of the interview with McDaniel; it has various stills, cuts of her hometown, and music mixed in with Debbie’s interview and narration much like television shows that focus on investigative journalism. The resolution isn’t the best (Bundy used an inexpensive 360-degree camera) but the animated portions of the feature represent big additions.

“The answer is to give the viewer a more intimate understanding of a character and her experience,” Bundy wrote about the project. “The technology allows us to put you in the reporter’s shoes, to feel what it’s like to sit with people as they look you in the eye and tell you their story, to visit their towns and the places that affected their lives. In some instances, it becomes a window into a person’s emotional memory.”

Disfellowshipped is a solid example of how to keep viewers involved with a longer form of reporting with the experience broken into two parts, with an additional “Inside the Investigation” feature. You can watch part 2 of the feature on Youtube here or via your browser where all three clips are in the same virtual space here, clicking and dragging like a YouTube video. It has a VR option in the bottom right corner.

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