The Washington Post published its first augmented reality initiative yesterday (10 May) to explain through visual elements the events that lead to Freddie Gray's arrest and death in Baltimore last year.
On April 12, 2015, 25 year-old Freddie Gray was arrested by the Baltimore Police for possessing what the police deemed to be an illegal switch-blade. While he was being transported in a police van, Gray fell into a coma and died one week later, sparking a series of ongoing protests in Baltimore.
"This topic is so important and not just to the community of Baltimore, but as a way of looking at issues of race relation and police within American cities," Jeremy Gilbert, director of strategic initiatives at The Washington Post, told Journalism.co.uk.
Not only digital readers of the Post but also print consumers can experience the story in augmented reality, he added, as the project can be accessed by downloading the ARc app and pointing a smartphone at the Washington Post logo featured both on the website and in the newspaper.
Gilbert said this story fits the augmented reality format because there "isn't a single [complete] visual record or one eyewitness account" from the scene.
"By putting a visual trigger out and allowing people to see a 3D version of the events, we let viewers look at the scene from any viewpoint they want, so they see it as if they were there when it happened."
The augmented reality experience walks viewers through eight scenes, from the moment Freddie Gray was captured by the police, up to when the officers realised he was injured and he was taken to the hospital. Each scene features visuals of the police car, the officers and the surroundings, as well as an audio narration from Washington Post Local reporter Lynh Bui.
More context to the story is also available by toggling the on-screen options: a map showing the police van's trajectory as the events unfolded and additional text.
"Because of the mistrial [in December] we have heard at least one case made by the prosecution and one case made by the defence so we can truly present both sides of the issue.
"We're not making guesses, we're simply showing the picture as it previously unfolded in court so it's a great way to bring this case to life."
Gillbert said the Post's intention was not to use augmented reality as a "gimmick", but to differentiate itself from other types of coverage and to provide a "much richer way to tell the story that progressively enhances the experience".
"The Post is in a very exploratory phase, we are deliberately looking to try out different formats and figure out which one is right for each type of story.
"Whether we keep doing augmented reality in the future through a smartphone app, a hologram or something entirely different, we do think it's a format that allows you to layer extra information to a story," he added.
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