While the goal of sharing stories has remained the same for journalists, the advancement of technology is allowing them to do so in new ways. One of the most exciting prospects is virtual reality, which allows users to immerse themselves in locations they could previously only interact with in 2-D.

“The hope is that feeling of presence – which has been rigorously tested – will lead to a feeling of connection or empathy with the people whose stories are being told,” said Fergus Pitt, a senior fellow at the Tow Center.

Experts claim that VR is a natural evolution of video, which traces its roots back to the latter portion of the 19th century. But there are two main differences between the two: How content is captured and how it is displayed. For VR, images need to be recorded from every angle, as opposed to one fixed point for motion pictures.

There are a few different ways of doing this, which are demonstrated by projects already completed.

The first is by using 360 video, which was in the news again last week because of its introduction on Facebook. (In the future, the social network hopes you’ll be able to experience your friends’ vacations as if you were actually there.) This is done by using multiple cameras to capture environments around them, resulting in multiple clips of video that need to be stitched together to create a panoramic image.

Gabo Arora, a filmmaker and media adviser at the United Nations, is using this technique to produce immersive documentaries on topics such as Syrian refugee camps to impact change within diplomatic communities. FRONTLINE in collaboration with the Tow Center recently debuted its first VR documentary, “Ebola Outbreak: A Virtual Journey,” with the technology, and Bryn Mooser and David Darg of RYOT News incorporated 360 video into its film on Nepal.

An alternative approach to creating VR is using cameras equipped with 3-D scanning capabilities. Paul Cheung and Nathan Griffiths at The Associated Press used this method to launch its first VR story, “The suite life,” which enables viewers to “walk” through and experience exclusive locations such as a luxury hotel room, a cruise ship and an airplane. Each space was extensively photographed using a 3-D camera from Matterport and reconstructed for use in VR.

Computer animation and game design can also be used to recreate virtual environments. A prime example is the work developed by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute and fellow Dan Archer through a digital representation of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

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