Testing the Virtual Waters: Our First Weeks of VR Journalism

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USC students have started school again, and our class is taking off at last. While we met a couple of times during the Spring semester, we were all really excited to meet the whole VR Journalism team and get to know each other better. As the class went around introducing each other, we realized we were quite a diverse group: a variety of majors, nationalities, backgrounds, and skills. This diversity will definitely help us create a project that defines journalism for VR.

Professor Robert Hernandez got us all pumped up for our project on the first day of class. He showed us a few different VR experiences, and we realized this would be an amazing new tool for storytelling.


“As someone who’s always had a strong interest in tech and storytelling, I’m able to harness both of these passions and pioneer future of journalism and virtual reality” – Benjamin Dunn, student


But before jumping into a real project, we had to dive deeper into research on virtual reality. To do so, we explored different kinds of VR gear and experiences, and got a thorough understanding of what kind of technology we were dealing with. Clearly, whatever we came up with, it would be completely original and revolutionary.

To inspire us, Professor Hernandez brought in a few professionals in the VR industry – the pioneers in this new medium – to talk about their experiences.

Julie Young, a producer and financial officer with Emblematic Group, spoke to us about the VR experiences Nonny de la Peña, CEO of Emblematic, created to tell journalistic stories. What is interesting about their work is that they not only create CGIs to recreate non-fictitious incidents, but also use real audio from 911 calls to make the scenes more accurate and impactful. After half the class watched Emblematic’s reenactment of Trayvon Martin’s slaying on virtual reality, we could say the real audio and accuracy of the images really helped in conveying journalistic stories. The other half experiences Kiya, a fatal domestic abuse story that was equally impactful.

We also learned a lot from Specular Theory’s Morris May and Ryan Pulliam. They gave us the amazing opportunity to experience their Sundance Festival showcased VR piece Chapter I: The Party. The experience portrayed a date-rape scenario from the perspectives of the victim and the perpetrator, which left us quite uneasy. Because Specular Theory is an all-in-one company – working on the creative, the technology, and the production of content – May and Pulliam walked us through the entire production process behind VR experiences, from the pitching to the release. May explained some of the best techniques for filming and editing VR – which would be great help for our first virtual reality project. He also claimed that, if a story cannot be told in virtual reality, it is probably not a great story to tell. Pulliam gave us her marketing perspective, claiming that marketing is, after all, storytelling – and virtual reality could play a big role in it. They were also very excited to speak to students, since they believe the next person that will be successful in the VR medium is still a student, waiting to be discovered.


“The next Steven Spielberg of VR is still in school” – Morris May, Founder/CEO, Specular Theory


Those insights really made us realize the potential virtual reality has as a new technology.


“I got to know a lot about VR apps and projects by taking this class, and I really think that having the speakers over helped me understand a lot of the behind-the-scene production process” – Melody Jiang, student


Now it is time to test this knowledge.

This week, we will be working on our first project: the Wallis Annenberg Hall tour. We will also learn from Immersivly, the studio that created the Hong Kong Unrest experience, on how to set up our equipment to create something amazing. We cannot wait to start!

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On September 9, 2015
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