Al Jazeera Journalism Review

VR outside
Abu Ibrahim, a displaced Syrian who lives 300 metres away from his home was featured in a film about his life using virtual reality technology [Courtesy of Frontline in Focus]

Virtual reality in the newsroom - placing us in the middle of the story

Journalists can use virtual reality to get a much clearer view of what is happening on the ground during conflict or other major events. This is how it works
 

What does it mean to live in the same tent for seven years? With cold winters and hot summers, and conditions that worsen to the point that you have to sew the cloth of the torn tent in order to protect against the elements? That’s exactly what happened to one displaced Syrian child, Heba. Put on the virtual reality goggles, come with us to this tent, and listen to the story. 

This is the sort of coverage we provide at Frontline in Focus. Each time we cover stories of displacement and refugee camps for humanitarian organisations and media groups, we strive to highlight the unique aspects of each story that make it different from the others. This is what virtual reality helps us to do.

As the war in Syria enters its 11th year, written or illustrated material is no longer enough to cover it. Rather, we found that we need to transport the audience into the tent so that they realise that each tent is not the same, and that the stories of people in conflict areas are different. To this end, they can wear virtual reality goggles or watch a 360° report. 

VR3
Snow in a Syrian refugee camp, depicted using virtual reality technology [Courtesy of Frontline in Focus]

We can also use augmented reality technology. Augmented reality only requires a person to point their phone to a spot in their room to see and hear, for example, the story of the Syrian girl Jana who told us about her dream room while standing next to her tent. 

Virtual reality techniques can be used to transport media and humanitarian personnel to the conflict zone in Syria, helping them build their story from the ground or just simply to understand more of what is happening there.

VR4
A Syrian refugee family featured next to their tent in a refugee camp in northern Syria - with footage shown using virtual reality technology [Courtesy of Frontline in Focus]

All they need to do is wear virtual reality goggles and, through a coordinated live broadcast, they can walk around a refugee camp or an area related to the story they’re working on and ask questions in real time. For example, one journalist living in the United States found it remarkable that some camps depend on solar energy as their primary source of energy - that journalist was only able to develop this angle to the story as a result of using virtual reality technology. 

Bridging a gap

To take part in a virtual reality “tour” of a specific area, an event is coordinated in advance with the journalist or humanitarian organisation. 

VR5
Children playing in a refugee camp in northern Syria - footage taken using virtual reality technology [Courtesy of Frontline in Focus]

To provide this, a local team trained in the use of 360° cameras provides raw material for stories of humans in conflict areas. 

The local team conducts a live broadcast from the target location. The video is broadcast through a 360° camera that allows participants to explore the location from wherever they’re based. They are also provided with live translation in case they do not speak the local language. They are able to direct the team to explore specific areas of the location through the live broadcast. 

The story of this archaeologist who toured Harim Citadel might help explain the concept: 

At the end of the session, the participant will not only get answers to their questions, but also videos, in traditional format or 360°, all of which can be agreed upon beforehand. This will aid in building a story. 

Producing a story with virtual reality

Virtual reality is the use of technology to create a three-dimensional environment that simulates actual reality in a way that allows the audience to interact with their surroundings. As a result, the audience no longer experiences the story as an outsider, but rather becomes part of the story. This can be achieved in several ways, the most effective being through the use of virtual reality goggles that enables the user to view the story from all angles. 

VR6
The Forgotten Ancient City: Babsqa is a village in the Dead Cities of northwestern Syria. Today these ancient sites shelter Syria’s displaced. Footage depicting life there is shown using virtual reality technology [Courtesy of Frontline in Focus]

The question isn't only where to start, but also understanding why there is a need to produce stories using virtual reality and 360° video in a world where the demand for digital skills continues to grow. The goal is to create greater and more realistic interaction with the audience, in turn producing a greater impact on the audience, which is the ultimate goal for journalists in the production of media. 

YouTube also allows you to view stories using virtual reality technology. All you need to do is click on the virtual reality goggle icon and place your phone within the goggles to find yourself inside the event. 

This story, for example, takes you directly to the front lines in Syria. It allows you to walk with a displaced Syrian - Abu Ibrahim - who is living about 300m away from his home in the Syrian city of Tadef, located east of Aleppo. Ibrahim tells us how the war prevented him from returning to his home and how he now lives in the destroyed house of his friend. 

Presenting stories in this way can attract more interest from the public, who are now following new and modern developments, especially with the entry of major institutions into the field of metaverse, virtual and augmented reality, which many believe will dominate the technology market in the coming decades. 

Frontline in Focus currently operates from Syria, Libya and Yemen. We also launched the TinyHand platform three years ago, which specialises in covering stories of children in war zones, areas in which children are the most vulnerable.

 

More Articles

Casualties of Partition - telling the story of Zainab and Boota

REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK: On the 75th anniversary of the Partition of Pakistan and India, a writer recalls his efforts to uncover the mystery of a family divided and asks if we always have the right to push for the ‘truth’

Haroon Khalid
Haroon Khalid Published on: 15 Aug, 2022
‘No less than a fight for survival’ - life for mobile journalists in India

THE LONG READ: Mobile phones have made a career in the media more accessible to independent journalists. But they have also made it easier to exploit them

Saurabh Sharma
Saurabh Sharma Published on: 2 Aug, 2022
When covering refugee stories makes you a figure of hate

A wave of anti-migrant sentiment is gripping South Africa and those journalists covering it, who are migrants themselves, have become a particular target

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 28 Jul, 2022
How do journalists work under information blockades?

THE LONG READ: Internet blockades are used by governments to stifle dissent, unrest and even the reporting of war. We take an in-depth look at this phenomenon and highlight ways journalists can carry on working regardless

Adil Akhoon
Adil Amin Akhoon, Saliq Parvaiz Published on: 7 Jul, 2022
Why are so many journalists being killed in Bangladesh?

A decade after the brutal murders of a prominent journalist couple in Dhaka, the killers have still not been brought to justice - they remain at large along with those responsible for the deaths of many other journalists

Rokeya
Rokeya Lita Published on: 20 Jun, 2022
She showed me a picture of her dead son - moments later, she was back with the tea and cake

Listening to stories of trauma and loss caused by conflict and natural disaster - such as those of women in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir - is what many journalists must do to find and report the truth. The way in which we listen while setting aside preconceived notions of how victims ‘should’ behave is critical

Anam Z
Anam Zakaria Published on: 16 Jun, 2022
‘I still have nightmares’ - reporting on hate crimes in India

A handful of brave journalists have taken on the task of documenting and exposing hate crimes - often at great personal cost

Safina
Safina Nabi Published on: 14 Jun, 2022
Caught between warring factions - life as a journalist in Cameroon

Cameroon’s anglophone crisis has resulted in large parts of the country becoming no-go zones for reporters who must find other ways to do their jobs

Akem
Akem Nkwain Published on: 8 Jun, 2022
'We are not scared; we will tell our stories' - introducing Somalia’s first women-only newsroom

Braving threats from Al Shabaab as well as disapproval from their own, often patriarchal communities, six pioneering women have set up their own news agency in Somalia

Abdullahi Mire
Abdullahi Mire Published on: 1 Jun, 2022
‘You will be silenced’ - investigating human traffickers in Nigeria

REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK: Philip Obaji Jr has devoted years to uncovering and reporting on the sexual abuse and human trafficking of displaced women and girls in Nigeria. This is his story

Philip Obaji Jr
Philip Obaji Jr Published on: 18 May, 2022
‘Like walking on a tightrope’ - navigating a career as a journalist in Vietnam

THE LONG READ: Through a series of in-depth interviews with journalists in Vietnam, our writer - who remains anonymous for security reasons - paints a picture of censorship and journalists facing fines and even prison for mentioning ‘toxic’ subjects

headshot
Al Jazeera Journalism Review Correspondent Published on: 12 May, 2022
‘It takes courage to be a journalist in India’ - charting the collapse of press autonomy

THE LONG READ: With a rising number of journalists in India receiving ‘summons’ from the police and even finding themselves in prison just for doing their jobs, we ask - why has the profession come under so much pressure in recent years?

Abeer Khan Published on: 21 Apr, 2022
Beyond bystanders: Citizen journalism during the Egyptian revolution

A journalist looks back at the founding of RASSD News Network during the Egyptian revolution, which trained and supported ordinary citizens to become journalists

Khaled Faheem
Khaled Faheem Published on: 14 Apr, 2022
‘The bottom of human misery’ - reporting on Rohingya refugee women and girls

THE LONG READ: How should we go about reporting on members of vulnerable communities in an ethical way? We examine the case of Rohingya refugees, overwhelmed and struggling for survival in the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh 

Azraa
Azraa Muthy Published on: 11 Apr, 2022
How smartphones are changing the face of news journalism

The telegraph transformed the way that newspapers could report the news more than 150 years ago. Now, smartphones are doing the same for TV news organisations

Rokeya
Rokeya Lita Published on: 5 Apr, 2022
Telling the stories of brutality - reporting on political prisoners in Belarus

REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: Constructing a long-form feature to document the narratives of Belarusians imprisoned for protesting after the 2020 presidential election was a pain-staking, months-long task fraught with danger

Olga
Olga Loginova, Ottavia Spaggiari Published on: 30 Mar, 2022
From Syria to Ukraine - telling the stories of Russian aggression

REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: Omar Al Hajj, a Syrian journalist working for Al Jazeera, explains what it’s like to go from covering war in his own country to bearing witness to another on a different continent

A picture of the author, Mohammad Ahdad.
Mohammad Ahdad Published on: 15 Mar, 2022
‘A sense of belonging has been taken away from us’ - the closure of the Kashmir Press Club

THE LONG READ: The closure of the Kashmir Press Club in January this year has come as a major blow to independent journalists in the troubled region who relied on it for camaraderie, respite and a ‘place to share ideas’

Sharafat
Meher Qadri, Sharafat Ali Published on: 10 Mar, 2022
Reporter’s Notebook: Inside Europe’s largest brothel 

While covering a story about a Spanish proposal to outlaw middlemen involved in prostitution, AJE senior correspondent Natasha Ghoneim and her team came up against a wall of silence, but managed to get a story nevertheless

Natasha Ghoneim
Natasha Ghoneim Published on: 8 Mar, 2022
Investigating racist conviction laws in America - and seeing a man freed after 25 years

REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK:  How a team of journalists spent nearly a year investigating the conviction and 25-year imprisonment of Brandon Jackson and then watched him walk free

Jeremy Young
Jeremy Young Published on: 2 Mar, 2022
Reporter’s Notebook - on the trail of Boko Haram

For one journalist in Nigeria, covering the activities of the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram, primarily means documenting the horrifying stories of its victims, sometimes to his own cost

Philip Obaji Jr
Philip Obaji Jr Published on: 21 Feb, 2022
Avoiding mistakes in the newsroom - verifying video from external sources

When video of Osama Bin Laden surfaced around the time of the September 11 attacks on New York in 2001, many people questioned its credibility. We examine how Al Jazeera verifies the authenticity of outside materials, much of it produced by 'citizen journalists' 

A picture of the author, Montaser Marai.
Montaser Marai Published on: 15 Feb, 2022
Branded a ‘troublemaker’ and summoned by the police - life for female journalists in Kashmir

The repeal of Kashmir’s autonomous status by the Indian government, combined with a crackdown on press freedom, has made life extremely tough for women journalists in the region.

Safina
Safina Nabi Published on: 10 Feb, 2022
Making the world a better place - one camera ‘click’ at a time

REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: How one photojournalist in Nigeria takes a ‘solutions-based’ approach to the images he captures.

Femi2
Femi Amogunla Published on: 2 Feb, 2022