July 17, 2017

Professors Awarded Grant to Pursue Research In Immersive Storytelling


By Alisha Pillay

Ever watched a work of video journalism that includes an anonymous source? Typically, you’ll see a pixelated face or even a backlit silhouette. But research suggests that these types of anonymization techniques weaken the viewers’ emotional connection to the character. A central challenge for investigative journalists is finding a way to preserve the anonymity of their sources while still conveying the emotional impact of those stories

Associate Professor Kate Hennessy and Professor Steve DiPaola from SFU’s School of Interactive Arts & Technology, along with UBC Graduate School of Journalismcollaborator Assistant Professor Taylor Owen, have recently been awarded a grant from Google News Lab, Knight Foundation and Online News Association via the Journalism 360 Challenge to help tackle this problem.

Their project, AI-generated Anonymity in VR Journalism, will explore how reporters might preserve the anonymity of a subject through animated abstraction. DiPaola has developed an AI-based filter which can conceal the character’s identity and allows the audience to remain emotionally connected. The team will work together to test the potential of this tool and its collaborative use with subjects to orchestrate how they are anonymized. Hennessy, Owen, and DiPaola will then produce a short work of VR-journalism using the technique.

© Steve DiPaola

A rising trend in VR journalism, immersive storytelling blends 3D gaming and immersive technologies to replicate first-person experiences for audiences. The Journalism 360 Challenge awarded 11 projects dedicated to advancing research in this area. The winners were chosen from more than 800 applications from around the world. Researchers were invited to submit early stage ideas for a chance to receive between $15,000 and $30,000 to test, improve and design their projects. All winning teams have been invited to attend ONA17 in Washington, DC this October to share their findings and demo their projects.

To learn more, click here.