No. 41: Twenty-six Immersive Highlights, Lessons From An Aging Robot

By on April 2, 2021

Twenty-six creators, curators and researchers selected the immersive works from the past year that most excited them—and CUNY’s Matt MacVey has the write-up, which he presented in virtual reality at a Journalism 360 meetup in January.

The selections are spectacular, ranging from VR films focusing on HIV education to a VR podcast that tells the story of a US Army experiment to build a nuclear-powered military base under the ice. The projects span topics from climate resilience to Ethiopian-American identity to women’s suffrage, so please do take a look.

Also, we’re delighted to share that “Reeducated”—one of our 2020 Journalism 360 Challenge winners— won special jury recognition for immersive film last month at SXSW. “Reeducated,” co-produced by the New Yorker, is a virtual reality documentary investigating human rights violations in one of the most secretive places in the world: Xinjiang, China. Check out this video on how it was made.

Finally, some news: This will be the last edition of the Journalism 360 newsletter. We started this newsletter in 2018 to build community by connecting with and supporting a global network of storytellers accelerating the use of immersive storytelling in news. Over the past 40 issues, dozens of you have reached out to share your projects or recommend tip sheets and how-to guides. Among so many examples, we have:

Moving forward, you can still stay in touch with community members, showcase your projects and share or ask for resources through the Journalism 360 Facebook group. You can also reach out to our Director of Programs Jennifer Mizgata (, who is always happy to connect with folks.

The emerging technology space continues to be a focus area for ONA. In addition to news about Journalism 360 projects, you will find updates on the tech trends we’re eyeing and opportunities we’re offering through our primary newsletter—ONA Weekly. Delivered every Wednesday, ONA Weekly is our regular digest of program and event updates, industry insights, resources for journalists, job openings and more.

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“I posted to Instagram as an aging robot.” Ziv Schneider created a virtual influencer (@myfriendsylvia if you’d like to follow) that aged a year every three days, with captions generated by a machine learning algorithm. Here’s what Schneider (also a Journalism 360 grantee for a project  developing AR features in news articles) learned about how people react to these strange avatars.

VR in the home? Collab Docs gave 12 households an Oculus Go—pre-loaded with 46 pieces of VR nonfiction—and studied how they reacted. Participants from all households said that the VR immersion helped their sense of engagement with the material. However, many stopped engaging after only a few weeks, in part because the headset made them feel unsociable.

Technology is not neutral. “Coded Bias,” Shalini Kantayya’s documentary on technology ethics and biased algorithms that premiered at Sundance in January, will be available April 5, on Netflix. Ahead of the release, read an interview with Kantayya and documentary protagonist Joy Buolamwini about AI regulation and the role of women of color in tech ethics.

How to start with immersive filmmaking. This eight-part podcast series explains how VR and AR productions are made, going deep into details on the producer’s role, finance models, audience research and more.

Ready for Couchketball? For March Madness, USA Today made a virtual basketball game using the 8th Wall platform. The game, which is played on a mobile browser, features a basketball court imposed on physical space and lets readers shoot hoops and score points across three levels of difficulty. Adding a QR code to the game in print drove tripled engagement.

IEEE VR. The IEEE Virtual Reality conference just wrapped up and Voices of VR’s Kent Bye has an excellent Twitter thread with highlights, from discussions on privacy in VR to doing human subject research in mixed reality. Also from Bye: a thread of VR-related highlights from SXSW.