Announcement

Virtual Reality in Journalism the Focus of New FRONTLINE Partnership with Emblematic Group Supported by $580,000 from Knight Foundation

December 17, 2015

Iconic PBS Series and Pioneering Virtual Reality Startup to Create Best Practices for Immersive Journalism

FRONTLINE, the acclaimed PBS investigative documentary series, will expand its exploration of virtual reality in journalism, creating new immersive experiences and developing lessons for the emerging field with $580,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Virtual reality presents opportunities for journalists to produce a three-dimensional storytelling environment and engage audiences in new ways. Using a headset or goggles, a viewer is able to look around, move through a space and potentially interact with elements in the scenario. The result is more immersive than traditional filmmaking or interactive content because it creates a deeper sense of presence, or “being there.”

Working in collaboration with Emblematic Group, FRONTLINE, produced at WGBH in Boston, will spend 18 months experimenting with, and developing best practices for, immersive journalism. The team will build at least three virtual reality projects, examining the technical, ethical and procedural issues raised by this rapidly evolving medium.

With large investments being made in virtual reality and 25 million headsets expected to be sold worldwide by 2018, it will soon be possible for journalists and other storytellers to use this new technology to reach a large audience. Analysts predict a $150 billion virtual reality market by 2020.

“Virtual reality is expanding as a medium and becoming increasingly accessible to news consumers on a wide array of storytelling platforms, but no established set of standards and ethics around applying journalism in VR environments currently exists,” said Raney Aronson-Rath, FRONTLINE executive producer. “With this generous support from Knight, FRONTLINE is committing to exploring and creating VR through the lens of journalism, and to leading the way in setting frameworks for journalistic standards in this space.”

It is the first collaboration between the documentary powerhouse FRONTLINE, which has been crafting cinematic films on complex issues for more than three decades and recently released the virtual reality documentary “Ebola Outbreak: A Virtual Journey,” and the pioneering Emblematic Group, whose CEO Nonny de la Peña first launched the field of immersive virtual reality storytelling eight years ago. An award-winning documentary filmmaker, de la Peña is a former correspondent for Newsweek magazine and has written for The New York Times and other major news organizations.

“We are so thrilled to be working with FRONTLINE to develop and advance the field of immersive journalism,” said Nonny de la Peña, CEO of Emblematic Group. “I couldn’t have wished for a better partner, with such amazing knowledge and experience in investigative reporting, and I’m so excited that this generous support will allow us, not only to produce some great work together, but also to share our learnings with other journalists.”

The FRONTLINE and Emblematic team will develop at least three virtual reality experiences anchored in FRONTLINE’s reporting. Through this collaboration, the team will develop best practices to help guide and foster future opportunities for meaningful virtual reality journalism.

“The project will show the field of journalism what is possible using virtual reality,” said Shazna Nessa, Knight Foundation director for journalism. “It will help develop learning around this emerging field and drive the conversation about how journalism can use virtual reality to extend and deepen its impact.”

Funding for this project is part of Knight Foundation’s efforts to support journalism excellence with new forms of storytelling and audience engagement to inform and engage communities. Knight has also been working with Gannett to promote immersive storytelling at the local and regional journalism level through StoryNext, a conference this fall dedicated to new frontiers in storytelling, which will continue to provide a forum for the exchange of best practices among journalists in this area in 2016.

About FRONTLINE

FRONTLINE, U.S. television’s longest-running investigative documentary series, explores the issues of our times through powerful storytelling. FRONTLINE has won every major journalism and broadcasting award, including 75 Emmy Awards and 17 Peabody Awards. Visit pbs.org/frontline and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr and Google+ to learn more. Founded by David Fanning in 1983, FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation, the John and Helen Glessner Family Trust, the Ford Foundation, the Wyncote Foundation, and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

About Emblematic Group

Emblematic Group, whose impactful virtual reality content was featured as part of the Samsung GearVR headset launch, has collaborated with multiple media partners including the BBC, Al Jazeera America, and TED. Emblematic has created VR segments covering topics such as poverty in California (Hunger in L.A.); the Syrian refugee crisis (Project: Syria); police brutality (Use of Force); the shooting of Trayvon Martin (One Dark Night); and domestic violence in South Carolina (Kiya). Pieces have premiered at the Sundance and TriBeCa film festivals, the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, and more. Founder Nonny de la Peña is widely credited with producing the first virtual reality documentary and is a frequent speaker at international festivals and conferences. She has been called “The Godmother of VR” by The Guardian and was named a Yale Poynter Media Fellow in 2015.

Contacts:

Patrice Taddonio, Assistant Director of Audience Development, FRONTLINE, 617-300-5375, patrice_taddonio@wgbh.org,

Anusha Alikhan, Director of Communications, Knight Foundation, 305-908-2646, media@knightfoundation.org

Jamie Pallot, Emblematic Group, James@EmblematicGroup.com

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