When journalists cover a story, they want their writing to have an impact. They want their audience to have a strong reaction and, even more importantly, they want this reaction to be authentic. For Nonny de la Peña, a combination of journalism and virtual reality pulled what were, according to her, “intense, authentic reactions” from her audience. De la Peña has worked with all forms of media in journalism for over 20 years and is now the CEO of Emblematic Group. She is the pioneer of immersive, virtual reality journalism and her aim is to use this modern technology to vividly capture news-based events and stories that elicit a sentimental reaction from her viewers.
Thus far, de la Peña has created several virtual reality experiences that broadcast details of incidents regarding topics such as the hunger crisis in America and the civil war in Syria. She wants the audience of these films, with the aid of headgear and goggles, to be transported into a scene and have an engaging mind and body experience. By unfolding events in this manner, the audience’s visual and auditory senses are bombarded with stimuli that is reminiscent of the actual incident. They are also engaged kinesthetically because virtual reality allows them to move about, as they would be able to in reality. These qualities of virtual reality in combination with journalism create powerful experiences and evoke emphatic emotions. De la Peña argues that individuals react compassionately. They often take some form of initiative after the experience, and this is how she wants to inspire change in the world.
In addition to these advantages, what makes virtual reality journalism even more innovative is that de la Peña’s virtual reality stories retain the integrity and attention to detail that journalistic pieces demand. Therefore, I believe that this new form of journalism shows some clear benefits, not only for reliable and effective storytelling but also for the purposes of training amateurs. Advocating the possibility of this kind of work will most definitely encourage young and creative minds to explore, experiment and develop much higher quality news stories as well as lead to the creation of increasingly compelling journalism.
I would, however, also argue that right now this method of news-based storytelling seems time consuming and expensive for a medium that is unable to reach a large audience due to the restrictions imposed by the headgear. In comparison to other forms of reporting that bring news to the masses, de la Peña’s innovation is inadequate. Furthermore, while de la Peña claims that the experience — the “duality of presence” — moves her audience, I fail to see how effective reporting does not achieve the same. Books, movies and articles have succeeded in transporting their audiences to other places, and they continue to do so today.
Nevertheless, it comes down to how well journalistic and storytelling skills are used to create any narrative. On that note, a journalist can apply this skill using any medium to achieve similar effects — de la Peña has simply added virtual reality to the list of options. Lastly, since virtual reality is indeed only in its beginning phase, at least in regard to journalism, it needs to be given the time and attention to develop into an even more powerful narrative and documentary tool.