360-degree storytelling on a budget

Equipment and training for original 360 content may not be a top-priority for every newsroom. But a team from The Daily Telegraph in Australia found a way to incorporate 360 into their reporting during just a two-day hackathon and without any budget.

At the Walkley Editors Lab in Sydney in March 2017, The Daily Telegraph team prototyped and demoed MainStreet. The tool harnesses Google StreetView 360 scenes to allow a journalist to add layers of text, photos, or multimedia content at specific locations. Within a week of the hackathon, the team had published their first piece using the tool.

The goal of MainStreet was to ‘further immerse readers into stories and give them a virtual reality understanding of the location, especially when ‘walk-through’ situations are required.’ MainStreet was conceived as ‘a far faster and more cost-effective format than 360/VR video. It offers a novel form of storytelling making the most of an incredible resource (Google StreetView),’ said the team at last year’s hackathon.

One of the first applications of MainStreet was a real-estate piece on Sydney’s Prize Palaces.

We spoke with Premium Content Editor Justin Lees to find out how he got MainStreet off the ground at The Daily Telegraph.

What changed from the prototype stage to the final product?

We cut back on a few of the more ambitious features, such as comments. Instead, we focused on embedding specific uses of MainStreet within stories rather than simply trying to overlay Google StreetView with lots of content.

For which types of stories have you used Main Street? What types of stories do you plan to use it for in the future?

We used it with great effect during and after the London terror attacks at Borough Market. It was the first interactive into any News Corp stories and the only one for about 12 hours. We’re not sure where it will go next, however, as it is outside current template development plans.

How did the implementation process work internally? How did you successfully sell the idea to your managers?

We flagged it to the property team who wanted to try it out; then produced it off our own bats for the terror attack. As often happens, give editors something good and they will use it.

The interview was slightly edited for length and clarity.