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Guerrilla Journalism: Reporting in 360 Video

SNA (Tokyo)— In Episode 2 of Guerrilla Journalism, we speak with Taylor Nakagawa, multimedia journalist and student at the University of Missouri, about best practices in the use 360 degree video for reporting the news.


Michael Penn: Welcome to our second episode of Guerrilla Journalism. Now one of the main pillars of this program is going to be to take a look at new technologies. Today, we’re going to do the first of these sorts of episodes, looking at 360 degree video. 360 degree video is beginning to be used by some major news organizations in the last year or two. It’s very much a transformative technology, but still journalists aren’t quite sure how to use it yet. Our guest is Taylor Nakagawa. He is a budding multimedia journalist and also a student at the University of Missouri. He is working together with the AP and others to try to develop ideas about the best practices for the use of 360 degree video by journalists. Here are some excerpts from our interview. Many video journalists are having trouble trying to figure out how to use 360 degree video in the best way. Generally speaking, what would you say to them?

Taylor Nakagawa: If you treat 360 degree video like flatscreen video, you’re never going to get the full potential from it at all. If you treat it not as an extension of flatscreen video but as an entire new approach to doing video journalism as a whole, journalists are going to challenge themselves to not only create engaging scenes, but to use their knowledge of a setting or subject to create a scene that is more actively engaged.

Michael Penn: In that sense, it seems that 360 degree video will form a new niche within journalism, but it’s not really going to replace conventional video journalism.

Taylor Nakagawa: 360 degree aren’t going to take this big, wide range scope that a lot of print stories or a lot of documentary stories can take. They’re not going to take healthcare, for example—something that is not very visual at all—and try to make a 360 video story about it. They are going to take something that is very actively engaging with characters that are willing to talk about their environments first along with their story.

Michael Penn: So what really is the advantage of 360 degree video? What is it adding?

Taylor Nakagawa: Giving the user time to look around and truly experience a location, rather than giving them a bunch of different scenes where they don’t have enough time to spend in that environment is truly important. Something that is thrown around in the 360 journalism community a lot is that location is another character in your story. By thinking about location as a character in your story, you’re going to want to include the location and making sure the one user is able to really feel immersed in the location is truly important in a 360 video story.

Michael Penn: When should journalists think about putting away their conventional video cameras and take up a 360 degree video camera?

Taylor Nakagawa: With 360 video, I’ve found the best settings for this and the best kind of stories used for this technology are ones where there’s action going on. That doesn’t mean it needs to be a concert or a riot, but it’s something that you can physically engage in. When you just show a city council meetings on TV, it looks like CNET, and adding 360 video to that does not do much to it. What I’ve found is that you need to find events, or people, or a topic that is enhanced by using 360 video. I think that is where the whole platform first part of my education comes in—where thinking about stories that are enhanced based on the tools you are using to tell them.

Michael Penn: Can you give us an example of 360 degree video which is used very well?

Taylor Nakagawa: A scene in 360 video that is often most effective that I see a lot is in sports. Instead of just showing a 360 video from the stands where the majority of fans would be able to see a game, you take it inside the locker room with the players, you take it inside the tunnel before the players run out onto the field, you run out with the players onto the field. These are all scenes that the normal citizen would not have access to.

Michael Penn: One of the major techniques of conventional video is that the editors and the cameramen try to draw the viewers’ attention to certain details and certain aspects in order to move along the story, but in 360 degree video, it seems like its quite easy for the viewer’s attention to wander. What can be done about that?

Taylor Nakagawa: From a storytelling point of view, the producers of these pieces of journalism need to get some type of direction in the setting. I’ve found the best way to do that is to simply add text on-screen to either guide you in certain ways—I’ve seen arrows that have been pointing in different ways, I think the beset example is this one short piece from Disney that tries to take you through the opening scene of The Lion King and it directs you in certain ways so you’re looking at certain parts of the stage or certain pieces that are going on. I also think that doing interviews where you have the person in a setting, telling you to look over here, this is what’s happening over here—I think those kinds of micro-documentary techniques where the journalist has the ability and the time to really set up scenes in a way that will guide a user through. I think those are some ways to overcome that kind of fear that maybe the user that this is intended for will never actually see the story in front of them.

Michael Penn: When filming in 360 degrees, there’s really no such thing as being behind the camera as there was in the past. What is are journalists themselves supposed to be doing?

Taylor Nakagawa: The role of journalists is probably another highly contested topic of my research as well. I’ve seen stories where there aren’t any journalists at all and its just interview based, text on scene graphics like we were talking about that drive the story. I’ve seen stories where the focus is on the journalist solely. I think a lot of really good 360 degree video stories, and my personal favorite 360 degree video story, is The Fight for Fallujah from the New York Times. That entire story is told through the eyes of a journalist and I think that, along with trying to educate the viewers about what’s going on in Fallujah and how Iraqi soldiers are working with US soldiers to fight ISIS, it also brings about this really empathetic feeling for what it’s like to be a war correspondent as well.

Michael Penn: There are some very special technical challenges and difficulties about working in 360 video, are there not?

Taylor Nakagawa: Especially when you’re trying to shoot in 4K video and make it super crisp and have a lot of depth to it, if one camera breaks in that entire rig, the entire shot is ruined. The batteries for these cameras only last for a certain amount of time, whereas a DSLR will last for hours. I think because, a lot of the time, high-end VR companies are taking six different 4K files, crunch them down, and try to edit them down, it forces them, in a bad way, to stage whole environments and whole shots. They’re asking their subjects to say certain things at certain times or are asking them to act in a certain manner or ask them to walk by the camera in a certain manner. They’re asking other people in the setting to act in a certain way and I think that really takes away from the independence and respect for autonomy that is at the core of a lot of journalistic teaching.

Michael Penn: What do you see as the next developments coming along that may begin to bridge the current era of 360 degree video with full virtual reality journalism.

Taylor Nakagawa: I think that the next step of 360 video, where it really crosses into something that is truly virtual reality, is photo- and video-grammetry, which is the ability to scan whole areas and build 3d models where somebody can actually do what is happening right now in this animation field—the virtual reality—in a real-world captured environment.

Michael Penn: Both 360 degree video as well as virtual reality are definitely topics that we will be returning to again within this show, Guerrilla Journalism. It’s something which is developing quickly and we expect a lot of changes in the months and years ahead. Thank you for joining us.

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