ArticleJune 7, 2017 · 3 min read time
The relationship of technology and journalism is often a debate initiated by advertising. Yle’s Digital Summit offered a chance to shift the discussion towards user experience and new possibilities in storytelling.
This year’s YLE Digital Summit, curated by Yle Lab together with Liz Rosenthal from Power to the Pixel, gathered a group of award-winning guest speakers of different backgrounds. What they had in common, was their apparent ability to adapt to prevailing trends in the media. Seemingly, this trend is now virtual reality and its impact on storytelling. All of the presentations are available at YLE areena.
Creative freedom in the public sector
Loc Dao, from the National Film board of Canada made a case of experimenting with content: “Public service broadcasting can take risks in places where the private sector never could”. He showcased his works that were defined by a break in technology. Like the first ever livestreamed radio interview in 1995 where Gillian Anderson gets a listener call from Australia (It’s quaint listening to Scully shout over the phone, "Hi...Australia!" not sure if the girl all the way down under can hear). Or the beautiful but cumbersome interactive magazine CBC Radio 3 (published weekly in 2002 – 2005) that pioneered in exploiting the synergy between audio, visuals and journalism.
Dao’s later works explores journalism in the form of an interactive nature documentary. Watch the trailer here. The documentary features a map of the Banff National Park and allows users to follow the Bear 71 by scrolling over various cameras in the park.
The problem with numbness in humanitarian work
NGOs have also started exploring interactive storytelling. Gabo Arora, an American director and filmmaker is using virtual reality as a medium for his short films and documentaries. His works include the award-winning short Clouds over Sidra that explores the Syrian refugee crisis with the help of VR and the Last Goodbye, documentary on the Holocaust.
Arora speaks how humanitarian work has evolved over the decades. Dramatic imagery with celebrities pleading for donations doesn’t have the same appeal it did during the 1980s. More importantly, even though we’ve been exposed to war photography since the World War 2, this hasn’t stopped any wars. Arora believes in the immersive quality of VR: the technology itself is still expensive and clunky but it appears to really affect people. He claims that the use of VR helped double the donations given on their recent UNICEF campaign in New Zealand.
An element of delight
The event was wrapped with a presentation from Robin McNicholas of Marshmallow Laser Feast. Instead of traditional journalism, MLF projects create immersive artistic experiences that play on people’s perception of sense. Can we smell in our dreams? Can a nature-experience be heightened with virtual reality? Their latest installation called Tree hugger is what they are calling a "virtual archive of rare and endangered trees" with the aim to help their conservation.
Is it just a Fad?
I'll be curious to see where Yle will go with virtual and augmented realities. It all seemed quite futuristic to me as I walked towards Ilmala but then again, Gillian Anderson was freaked out by a long distance call in 1995. I suppose any technology that can potentially increase empathy in society is worth exploring. If social and environmental issues can be addressed with fun and immersive experiences, I'm all for it.