Imagine you are walking down the street in Rio during the Olympic Games or in the United States, where the US presidential elections are still in full swing.

You reach a billboard or a sign showing the Olympic rings or Hillary Clinton's campaign logo, and by simply pointing your smartphone at it, you can read the latest coverage or scroll through key information with just a few finger taps.

Augmented reality (AR) is just one of the immersive technologies that give publishers a chance to develop new storytelling formats, alongside virtual reality and 360-video.

Empathetic Media, a company built to foster empathy between storytellers and their audiences through these newer technologies, conducted its latest experiment with augmented reality on 29 July, a day before the World Day against Trafficking in Persons.

The company partnered with the Red Cross in Pancevo, Serbia, for #STOPtrafficking2016, to raise awareness of human slavery by allowing people to download Empathetic Media's free augmented reality app, ARc Stories, and use generic traffic stop signs as storytelling triggers.

Red Cross Volunteers in Pancevo accompanied residents on walks around the city, and people were able to access stories about human trafficking featuring audio, visuals and maps, by simply pointing their smartphone at stop signs. The experience was also available through the ARc app to people anywhere in the world.

"We wanted to show people that human trafficking doesn't just happen in other countries, but also in their own country, and they shouldn't ignore it," Katharina Finger, business developer at Empathetic Media, told

"In cooperation with the Red Cross, we created an anti-human trafficking route, where people were doing this walk together to find out more.

"This is what we want to foster, people actually seeing stories for themselves, not just reading them, and making up their own opinions by discussing the topics together."

This is not Empathetic Media's first or last foray into augmented reality – in May, the organisation worked with the Washington Post to visually recreate the events that lead to Freddie Gray's arrest and death in Baltimore in 2015.

The experience consisted of eight scenes readers could access through ARc by directing their smartphone at the Washington Post logo online and in the print paper, which enabled them to hear, see and read about how Gray was captured by the police as if they had been at the scene.

Empathetic Media is also working on releasing other AR projects through ARc, such as an interactive infographic breakdown of Donald Trump's real estate empire in partnership with the Associated Press, and an account of homelessness in New York City from the perspective of a 23-year-old veteran and his day-to-day struggle for survival.

One of the company's goals is to "foster empathy with news" as well, not just with social causes, she added, and the ARc technology can turn any object into a trigger to release information.

A report analysing the future of virtual reality, AR and 360-video in journalism, published by the Knight Foundation in March, highlighted a growing number of companies, including Magic Leap and NextVR, have received investment to build experiences and apps based on these emerging technologies.

"News can be consumed quite singularly, but we want to have a new journalistic approach and spark a discussion about topics in the news," Finger said.

"Most young people use Facebook as their main source of news, but we think that by making news and social causes in different ways, we can engage this young audience and make them think about what they are reading."

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