Virtual reality has enabled news organisations to explore an innovative way of storytelling. ABC News, Sky News, The New York Times and Vice News have all started to take advantage of this immersive technology, but what if it has more potential than simply reporting on events that could also be filmed or packaged in a more traditional way?
The Economist used virtual reality and crowdsourced imagery to reconstruct destroyed artefacts from the Mosul Museum, a historical site destroyed by the so-called Islamic State in northern Iraq.
By teaming up with Rekrei, an organisation dedicated to cultural preservation (formally known as Project Mosul), The Economist created RecoVR: Mosul in late 2015.
The virtual reality project aims to preserve the cultural heritage of Mosul and inform its audience about its history for generations to come.
Anne McElvoy, senior editor at The Economist, told Journalism.co.uk that virtual reality enabled reporters to cover an issue they would not have been able to without the medium.
"Lots of publishers are working with VR to give immersive experiences, but we wanted to show that you could report on something that was specifically doable because it was in VR – it wasn't just some reporting you would do anyway with an extra VR element," said McElvoy.
This is a way of reporting in difficult situations that you don't have physical access toAnne McElvoy, senior editor, The Economist
Through a rigorous process of crowdsourcing photographs and witness accounts describing the layout of the museum and its contents, the project could turn multiple 2D photographs of artefacts into 3D images, creating a virtual tour of the museum for anyone wearing a VR headset.
"Nobody was there when the destruction happened as the museum is in the middle of a war zone in a terrible position," said McElvoy.
"As no one knows what was really there to start with, unless you were one of the few people that visited the site, this is a way of reporting in difficult situations that you don't have physical access to."
McElvoy provided an investigative voice over for the VR project, guiding the viewer around the restored museum with historic details and facts about the destruction, whilst giving them the freedom to explore the site themselves.
"When we got involved we wanted to ask the awkward, difficult questions, so we had a round table with historians from the region to gather information from, which really added value to the piece," she said.
"I think the idea of putting it there in a form that people wouldn't always be able to access, is a fantastic leap forward in terms of what you can offer your readers."
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