Aleppo , Syria. Image Credit: CNN VR

How Investigative Journalism is Leveraging 360 Video

Fovrth Studios
Sep 15, 2017 · 5 min read

As part of the Fovrth Fellowship, we’ve launched a “Student Series” to explore what is working, and what’s not, in 360 video. These blog posts are their first impressions of the 360 landscape across various themes.

By XIANI ZHONG (Cyan Zhong)

While the public used to rely on journalists in investigative pieces, 360 videos offer the opportunity for people to “play detective.” Right now the investigating process becomes more transparent because whatever the reporter is seeing, the audiences can see for themselves. It is a promising trend, but there are definitely some investigative stories that fit the medium better than others.

The best: CNNVR, “One Family’s Struggle to Survive Aleppo”

This five-minute video tells the story of a Syrian family trying to rebuild their home amid the ruins left by the civil war. The city of Aleppo is in rubbles and everyone in the family works hard to make a livable situation out of it. The story focuses on a child who helps with the restoration. It investigates the dire living situation of this family, a small piece of the big puzzle that is the Syrian crisis.

I rate this video “the best” because it uses the 360 technology to its advantage very well. It reconstructed the space to make audiences feel like part of the scene. Scrolling around I can examine the ruins and see different parts that the family is trying to rebuild. I feel as if I’m standing right in the room that at one point I almost wanted to help pick up some rubble. Another thing I like about this video is that the voiceover guides me where to look. With the possibility to move around freely, people sometimes get distracted by the surroundings — but with the VO leading the way, they can focus on the most important angle at each moment.

Immersivly | Hong Kong Unrest

The most provocative: immersiv.ly VR, “Hong Kong Unrest

This documentary tells the story of the 2014 Hong Kong pro-democracy unrest. Through mainly aerial perspectives, it recounts how the Hong Kong people gathered on the streets to protest the mainland’s intervention of their democratic election. The 360 technology greatly enhanced the viewing experience because it exposed all the angles of this movement in the street.

I consider this video very provocative. Through the aerial views we can see violent clashes between protesters and the police, which arouse emotions in the audience. Through the sticker walls and camps in the street we can see the contagious enthusiasm in Hong Kong people to fight for their cause. The singing, chanting and lights at night make audiences feel a sense of solidarity. The 360 element in this video mainly helps to heighten emotion and create a provocative environment. The drawback of the video is probably the aerial perspective: we always see everything at a heightened level and never feel fully immersed into the crowd. It might help to add a few shots at eye level among the crowd to add to the sensation.

Best use of space: CNNVR, “Manila: City of the dead

This video explores the city of Manila amid the drug war, with killings on the street everyday and people suffering. It investigates the dire human condition in the city and people’s attitude towards the drug war by telling the story of one family whose members have been killed in the process.

I rate this video “best use of space” because it builds a very good spatial connection with the environment, showing audiences a diversity of spaces in the city. The transition between different locations in the city shows the impact of the drug war. It starts with the bustling night market where a reporter introduced the current situation. The shot then moved inside a narrow house where eight people live together. Following the kids in the house, the camera switched to the cemetery to talk about the huge number of deaths caused by the war. Then we see the busiest maternity ward with children, and finally the church. Every location fits smoothly into the narration and helps the story advance. Being able to see all the spaces in 360 really helps people understand the scope of the crisis.

New York Times | Still Living With Bottled Water in Flint

The most to improve: New York Times VR, “Still living with bottled water in Flint

This video tells the story of people in Flint and their daily struggle to have clean water, even after many people believe the crisis is resolved. It starts with people delivering bottled water to homes in Flint and a particular family still skeptical of the water quality they use.

I rate this video the worst not because it’s poorly shot. The storytelling itself is okay and it exposes an issue that many people fail to follow up on. I just don’t think this short clip is 360-worthy. The video basically shows a truck delivering water and people doing daily chores with bottled water, which can easily be done by regular video. I don’t need to see 360 degrees of the messy living space to understand that the water crisis is still going on. I feel like it’s an unnecessary use of virtual reality technology.

Vikatan TV | Chennai Floods Aftermath

The most interesting: LIMINAL Media Productions, “Chennai Flood Aftermath

The video shows the aftermath of the flood in Chennai with a variety of shots. It shows the reconstruction of homes destroyed, the flooded first floors, the gushing water everywhere and people fighting it. The scenes are striking and powerful.

I think this video is very interesting because it does something I don’t see in most VR videos. There were parts where a smaller screen is imposed on the big screen to enhance storytelling. For example, during the interview with the official, scenes of people fighting the flood is projected onto the wall behind him, making his words more relatable. However, it might be more efficient to show just the footage with his voiceover instead of a double screen. I was also wondering, what if we have underwater scenes of the flood? Would it make us feel more strongly about the damage?

Overall I think virtual reality technology in investigative journalism is very promising, but we need to identify the most suitable stories to make into 360 videos. I read about the surgery double-booking investigation in The Boston Globe and I hope to see that turned into virtual reality. It would be really cool to gain an insider’s view at the operation room as if we are working alongside surgeons. Another idea is 360 video of a clothing factory to show the process of production and how much liquid waste is generated. It would help promote a more sustainable clothing industry.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the those of Fovrth Studios.


Xiani Zhong (Cyan Zhong) is a reporting and research fellow at Fovrth Studios.

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We are #VirtualReality + independent #documentary house. We remix highly cinematic techniques with new technologies like #ar #vr #360video http://gofovrth.com

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We are #VirtualReality + independent #documentary house. We remix highly cinematic techniques with new technologies like #ar #vr #360video http://gofovrth.com

Go Fovrth

Go Fovrth

We are #VirtualReality + independent #documentary house. We remix highly cinematic techniques with new technologies like #ar #vr #360video http://gofovrth.com

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