Break Week = Focus Week

Although this week is called “Thanksgiving Break” by Kennesaw State University, the JJIE Virtual World interns are certainly not abiding by the regular, relaxing procedures of a student vacation break.

Since last week’s fourteenth group meeting, the team has been constantly busy with the project’s deadline in site. At the start of the project, December 2nd was noted as the day the entire project would be finally and fully brought to fruition. It is the day that the compiled long text story will be fully written as a first draft; the day the machinima will be nearly complete; the day that the project will be even closer to its completion and its university debut in January.CollageThis week and last week, each group had a specific focus.

As the  journalists finish their individual story segments, the journalism team looks forward to what the full long text story will look like: from the writing to the pictures and the entire presentation for publication. Collaboration on segments, photo gathering, and Christopher Thomas family interviews is the group’s main focus right now.

The machinima team built the court room last week, which will be a main scene in the final machinima. Last week and this week, the machinimist’s main focus has been filming and editing.

During last week’s group meeting, the PR team was set on searching for grants. This will be their main focus as we head into our final weeks of the project.

Overall, the team knows that their work is not yet finished. So this “break” has been used as extra time to further the project’s progress as we approach our final deadlines.


Pushing Forward

Our JJIE Virtual World thirteenth group meeting  was similar to last week’s meeting. We all arrived at the Center for Sustainable Journalism at 9AM and then split up into our specific groups. The main incentive for today’s small group meetings was simple: push forward to complete the remaining tasks to create the most effective presentation for Christopher’s story.

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Last Friday at 6PM, all the journalists submitted the draft of their individual segment to Professor Witt. After reading through each segment, Professor Witt replied with comments on what they could add to or revise in their stories. Facts. That was the initial step to drafting the story. Now, emotion must be added, along with even more facts to present an in-depth story about the life of Christopher Thomas. The journalists will be reading and exploring how other similar news stories are structured to gather ideas for our own story. After discussing writing strategies and additional people to contact for context, the group decided upon a deadline for the final drafts so that Kevin Enners can begin merging the story segments together. The deadline for the next long story draft of each segment is November 14. Until then, the journalists will be drifting back into the unstable world of a boy who was incarcerated at age 14, and remains in jails still at age 30 serving his 40 year sentence.   They will explore deeply enough to tell the true story of his young, troubled life and explore the question of why his legal quest to reduce his sentence has not been successful.

Meanwhile, in the virtual world, the machinima team continues to build the avatars for the machinima story and build sets. Although the team has already created some avatars for the Pawn Shop scene, they continue to work on them, adjusting wardrobes, skin tones and body shapes to create realistic avatars that visually work well together and with the set. The machinima team had planned on filming today, but experienced problems due to a conflict between a recent firewall update and the virtual world Firestorm viewer, so filming was postponed until later this week.  The team did successfully record more soundtrack voices, mainly  characters re-reading some lines for sound and accuracy. Cristina Guerra continued to work on the inworld scenario textual graphics and credits for the machinima. At the end of the day, the machinima group realized there is still much work to be done as they continue to press on towards completing this compelling machinima story.

Realizing the potential for the continuation of this entire virtual world journalism project, Professor Witt has urged the public relations team to both promote our project’s machinimas and written stories, and concurrently look for possible grants for future funding. At today’s PR meeting, the group focused on finding more contacts in both areas. Public relations contact spreadsheets are being completed for the top-ranked schools and programs in Journalism, Film, Digital Media, and Gaming. The group is also researching foundations and corporations with established relationship to digital media schools and virtual reality, to discover possible sources for grants to fund the expansion of our virtual world project. The project press release deadlines for the Public Relations group are coming quickly, so the completed contact spreadsheet is due on November 20. Grant source research needs to wrap up by the end of November, with query letters to possible funding organizations going out in early December.

Thus, together or apart, the “divided” groups continue to work as one. This project is nothing without the journalists who have tracked down contacts to gather the information and find photos to ultimately report on and write the full story. The project is not complete without the machinima team having the knowledge of how to utilize this information gathered by the journalists to bring Christopher’s story to life in a virtual world machinima and where people can live out the story themselves. And finally, this project would never come into the public eye or have an opportunity to expand without the public relations team’s research, widespread media campaign, and grants that could support and maintain it past this semester.

Pushing forward, each group plays a major role in the successful completion of this project.  All of our creative work together is bringing us closer and closer every day to completing our project goals.


Kennesaw State Students Release Virtual World Production

Proof-of-concept, virtual world film underwritten by Online News Association Challenge Fund

Kennesaw, Ga. (22 October 2015) – An experiment in journalism storytelling debuts today with the public release of the virtual world machinima “The Kid, The Cop, The Punch.” The story is narrated by Xavier McElrath-Bey, a youth justice advocate, telling of a childhood encounter with a violent police officer.

Leonard Witt, executive director of the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University, says, “This student production is our first proof of concept in telling true stories using virtual worlds as our medium.”  Witt adds, “3D virtual reality storytelling is projected to be a multi-billion dollar industry in the near future. This experimental project is Kennesaw State University students’ portal into that future.”

“The Kid, The Cop, The Punch” was produced over the summer by computer science students Derek Maier and David Eric Nelson. The machinima, a digital inworld film, was edited by Cristina Guerra, a new media arts student.

Gwenette Writer Sinclair, virtual world developer and project consult, says, “Training our interns in virtual world skills, machinima production and teamwork collaboration tools has been one of my most rewarding projects. As we work together to meet the goals of our grant, combining real journalism and the virtual world medium, I am continually impressed by the team’s dedication, software learning skills, research abilities and creative solutions.  “The Kid, The Cop, The Punch” is one of the best first effort machinimas I have seen.”

Nelson, who has worked on virtual world set building, interactive object coding and is the master script writer for our next video, remarks, “Working on this project has been a unique experience as it has allowed us insight into the challenges and rewards of many different areas of expertise including journalism, virtual environments, and film production.”

Speaking of her internship experiences in sound editing, set design and production pipeline management, Guerra says, “Merging journalism and virtual reality has allowed us to analyze and explore a new medium that is filled with possibilities. Virtual reality is much more than it seems. It allows the user to truly experience and be immersed in a world that offers many different perspectives. This, combined with real journalism, makes for engaging and informative machinima.”

Maier said, “Researching these stories help us realize the troubles that youth today face. By recreating their stories in the virtual world we gain more insight into the juvenile justice system and experience a deeper sense of the difficulties they faced. Through the medium of machinima we can share that perspective with others.”

Maier, Nelson and Guerra have been joined this fall semester by eight other KSU student interns comprising a full production company specializing in journalism, machinima making and social media.

Along with “The Kid, The Cop, The Punch,” two other mini-documentary, virtual world machinima are currently in production. One is based on an autobiographical poem written by a 17-year-old incarcerated girl; the other, an investigative journalism piece, focuses on a 14-year-old boy, who was sentenced to 40 years in prison when convicted as an unarmed tag-along in a non-lethal shooting.

Learn more about the JJIE Virtual World Project as an ONA Challenge Fund winner and its project goals on our Project Overview page.

The Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University, just outside of Atlanta, is one of the 2015-2016 winners of the Online News Association Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education. This journalism project, “Marginalized Youth Voices Amplified in Virtual Worlds,” is underwritten by that winning grant. The Challenge Fund is administered by the Online News Association with support from the Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Rita Allen Foundation.

About The Center for Sustainable Journalism:

The Center for Sustainable Journalism and its online publication, The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE.org), are located at Kennesaw State University near Atlanta, Ga. The JJIE.org is  the only national publication covering juvenile justice issues on a consistent, daily basis. By focusing on delivering information and an “exchange” of ideas, the JJIE.org fosters a community of support around the issues facing youth across the USA.

The Online News Association is a leader in the rapidly changing world of journalism; a catalyst for innovation in storytelling across all platforms; a resource for journalists seeking guidance and growth; and a champion of best practices through training, awards, community outreach.

Kennesaw State University is the third-largest university in Georgia, offering more than 100 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees. A member of the University System of Georgia, Kennesaw State is a comprehensive university with more than 32,000 students from 130 countries. In January 2015, Kennesaw State and Southern Polytechnic State University consolidated to create one of the 50 largest public universities in the country.


Progression

On October 14, 2015, the goal for all team members at the ninth group meeting was progression – progression towards writing the full-text story, towards establishing PR events, and towards writing the machinima script for the Christopher Story. For this reason journalists, PR people and the machinima team were at the Center for Sustainable Journalism at 8AM, ready to review task lists and  make progress. The journalists made calls for more interviews and found additional contextual contacts for the long text story. The PR team designed a publicity campaign to promote the project and events. The virtual world machinimists worked with Gwenette on the script and production pipeline for the Christopher Story. Production scenes, props, and characters are already being developed.  Both the machinimists and journalists need confirmation on certain aspects of the case in order to tell the story accurately.

It is for this very reason – to uncover the accurate details of the case by hearing every possible perspective and retrieving additional documents – that four members of the journalism team were on a road trip to Augusta, GA, where the crime and the sentencing hearing occurred 15 years ago.

Augusta_MunicipalCourt1EAugusta_HistoricMuseum2EAugusta_SheriffsDpmt3E

Journalists Claire Bohrer, Ann Ondieki, Camille Moore, and Ariel Greenaway, were on their way to Augusta to uncover more information about the case. At 5:30 AM, the journalists had met at the Center, piled into Ariel’s car, and set off on their mission after mapping out their game plan.

They first went to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office to see if the incident police reports requested weeks ago were ready. Since the crime occurred 15 years ago, the paperwork was taking much longer to arrive than anticipated. This delay is definitely a hindrance as deadlines approach for both the machinima and long text story. The journalists will be keeping in touch with the police sergeant to retrieve these reports as soon as possible.

Next the journalists navigated to the Richmond County Superior Court to examine case dockets, where they discovered new information and printed some of the documents. Then they went to the Augusta Municipal Court, to take pictures of the sentencing hearing courtroom. Unfortunately, the building’s courtrooms were re-purposed and renovated two years ago. Many of the machinima scenes take place in the courtroom. Pictures are needed to construct a courtroom virtual world scenario.  No one in the building had  pictures from before the renovations, so the journalists set off on a mission to find pictures elsewhere. After visiting the Augusta Historic Museum and contacting the Augusta Chronicle, they made connections that should be helpful in finding courtroom pictures circa 2000.

To dig deeper into details of the sentencing hearing, our journalists next visited David Weber, the lawyer who represented both Christopher Thomas and Christopher Butts at the sentencing hearing. Unfortunately, Mr. Weber was in court all morning and could not meet with us. Although he does not seem very receptive to speaking with us, his experiences is a vital part of the story. Over the next week, efforts to contact him will continue.

After the downtown Augusta tasks were completed, the journalists traveled to the scene of the crime at A-Awesome Pawn Shop on Tobacco Road. Arriving at the address, they could not find the pawn shop. The decision to visit a pawn shop down the road was unexpectedly a very valuable choice.  There they happened upon the owner of A-Awesome Pawn Shop where the crime occurred in 1999. Greg, the owner, did not want to be recorded, but did answer several questions and tell the story of that day from his memory. He also explained there is now a liquor store at the location of the crime scene pawn shop. Today the building exterior looks practically the same with only the exception of different signs. After hearing Greg’s perspective of that day, the journalists took pictures of the crime scene to provide additional data for virtual world scenario construction.

The next interview was at the home of Ms. Sharpe, the foster mother caring for Christopher Thomas at the time of the crime. It turns out that Christopher and the two other boys involved in the crime were not the only children in her care. Ms. Sharpe stated she had 13 foster children living in her home in 1999. Ms. Sharpe stories about the crime, the boys and her experiences as a foster parent raised many new questions about Christopher Thomas’  life for the journalists – questions not only for Ms. Sharpe, but for DFCS (Department of Family and Children Sevices) and other facilities where Christopher had been placed.

With heads spinning and growing fervor, the journalists made their way to the last stop of the day, the victim’s house, unsure of how this encounter would develop. It could go one of two ways: He would be cooperative and answer any questions or he would be completely resistant and say nothing. Unfortunately, he was not willing to talk, speaking only a few disgruntled words: “They shot me. What more do you want me to say?”

Although the trip to Augusta was to find answers to many questions, the trip actually generated more questions than it answered. Hopefully, these new questions can be answered by the police reports, additional case documents, and a few more telephone interviews.

Though there is still clarity needed on some of the story’s details, one thing is clear: As the team delves deeper into this case, the story is coming alive on many different levels. Over the past few weeks, reading the documents has been the equivalent of a book for the team. However, now that our journalists have actually traveled to the scene, spoken with the people involved, and reported back to the team, this case has become very real for all the interns.  As settings become real places and characters become real people, the story is no longer just words on paper.  It is a reality these people lived through in 1999 and continue to live with today.

As one of the journalists in Augusta, I saw the interviews bringing people’s memories into focus.  We watched their faces and listened to their real experiences unravel in front of us.  We were reminded to treat every detail and person with care and respect.

Our new comprehension of the reality of the case strengthens our motivation to tell an accurate story so others can empathize with Christopher Thomas. After all, Christopher is a real person in jail for a crime he took part in at the young age of 13, for which he may have received an unjustly harsh sentence. Keeping this in mind, the whole JJIE VW team is striving to bring light to his case.  Hopefully, our project will change the lives of very real people incarcerated unjustly at a young age, educate more people about juvenile justice issues and bring awareness to the problems of the Georgia’s Senate Bill 440.


A Race Against Time

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As routine, the Journalists, along with some members of the PR team, were back at the Center for Sustainable Journalism at 8AM this morning for the eighth group meeting. To begin, the team reflected on the progress of each of the individual tasks that Claire Bohrer had assigned them the past week. The tasks focused on re-reading the documents, finding more information, and contacting interview prospects. Although we did attain a lot of valuable information, as Camille Moore found great articles from the Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, where the case occurred) and Jackson Walsh found extra SB440 information, we were unable to track down as many interview prospects as desired. It seemed that we were stuck. However, that’s when we had to remind ourselves that we are never stuck – just slightly set back. Unfortunately, with this project, we don’t have a second to waste.

To lighten our hopes and bring everything into perspective, investigative reporter, Jim Walls met with the Journalism team right after the group meeting to give insight on investigative reporting. He introduced us to many helpful sites, which we can use to find contacts, and having reported on criminal cases before, he gave us some great information about the Juvenile Justice System. Furthermore, he agreed to help us research the address of the interview prospects so that we can more easily find all of these locations when the journalists take their next step: a trip to Augusta, GA.

Flashback to the meeting – [sidenote: a flashback is so appropriate, as there will be several as part of the final machinima story]. After discussing the individual tasks of each journalist, we focused on the long story draft that Kevin Enners has begun. We discussed the need to highlight significant parts of his life and to ultimately show the instability of the youth’s life due to his many foster care placements and school changes. We also emphasized the need to tell the story with facts so that we can leave it up to our audience to decide what they think about the case. Furthermore, we discussed the need for additional knowledge from experts in the following fields: foster care, juvenile justice, medicine, etc., all of whom are additional interview prospects being added to the list. From this discussion, we know that the best, most honest way to tell a story is through good reporting, which is why our goal is to obtain as many perspectives on this case as possible.

After the long story talk, we transitioned into the presentation of the Machinima Script. The Virtual World Team has worked long and hard to put together a script, complete with characters, dialogue, and specific ideas of camera angles. At this point, with the script written and the scene of the crime (the Pawn Shop) already built, they are ready to continue building all of the pieces that will bring this story to life, virtually.

At the very end of the meeting, the PR group discussed their next moves. With an Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook created, it is now our responsibility, as a whole team, to get our project’s name out there. The more attention brought to this project and this entire story, the more successful we will be of achieving our goals to give the youth in the system a voice, to shine light on the injustices he faced throughout his whole life, and to highlight the consequences that can befall any misguided youth who stumbles through any rough upbringing and eventually into the Juvenile Justice System.

The most evident problem that is looming over all of our heads is lack of time. The ticking of the clock becomes louder and louder every day. The fact is, we need more time: to contact people – to find people – to interview people – to track down all necessary pictures for the machinima – to build the machinima – to record all voices- to implement our PR campaign. Yes, we need more time. Unfortunately, this is simply something we cannot have. For that reason, we must pull together to not only finish the project, but to complete it to the best of our abilities so that we may give this story and this youth justice.


Emotional Display Gallery Additions

Finding, uploading and displaying imagery inworld is proving challenging for the project interns. 3D object creation is a new skill for all of them, but they are persistent and committed to learning inworld building skills.  They are realizing how important it is to do things in order and pay careful attention to details – especially when manipulating a prim object’s shape, rotation and position. The completed assignments will become part of the emotionally evocative imagery used for the CT Story and Forgive poem machinima scenarios.


Strict Project Schedule

Word Cloud created with Jason Davies opensource online tool – https://www.jasondavies.com/wordcloud/

Friday afternoon at the Center for Sustainable Journalism, a few team members, along with Leonard and Gwenette, met up (via Skype for Gwenette) to discuss a necessary calendar of deadlines for the project. As we discussed the stories we planned to cover and measured out the amount of time we actually had to gather/write the stories, create the machinima, and to promote/produce the scheduled events, we realized that we were definitely in a time crunch.  So, we brainstormed a plan for the remainder of the semester.

Below is an outline of  the Journalism, Machinima, & Event Plan:
Roles are not definitive, and will likely change as we learn who is willing to take on which tasks, based on abilities and interests.

We will be working on three basic products and a project manual:

“Forgive” Poem – Stylized Machinima — Supervisor: Gwenette

  • All ready to go – Need permission from The Beat Within (contact: David Inoncencio)
    • Claire & Ann will secure that – get in writing that it is okay to set the poem in a virtual world environment and that we have worldwide rights to distribute that in any form and on any platform, the copyrights to the poem and any other use of the poem belong to the writer. We can provide them a contract.
    • Ariel & Claire: Find a voice: First, see if the writer is willing to voice it, if not, we will have to do the voice for it. Either a student in the project, an acting student or someone with a strong professional voice.  Alternative is to use several voices reading different stanzas, so we will be gathering many voices reading the poem.
    • Derek, Eric & Cristina – artistic look & machinima creation
    • Anyone else interested in inworld building can also help

The CT Story – Presently Incarcerated Adult Arrested When a Juvenile

  • Long text story – Supervisor: Leonard Witt – First draft due Nov. 1, rewrite Nov. 15
    • Ariel, Camille, Claire, Jackson, Kevin: Study documents to gather background information, research further info & interview people involved with case to write story
  • The Virtual World, Machinima spin off – Supervisor: Gwenette Sinclair – Like a Story sidebar – start building it immediately – writers above feed information to inworld build team using our gDoc spreadsheets for sharing information
    • Ann, Cristina, Jackson, Jourdan, Eric, Derek & whoever else wants to help

PR Events: Ariel, Kassidy, Linda

  • October 07: Virtual World Class Speaker Nina Camplin
  • October 07:  Mixed Reality Noon Live Music Concert w/Dancing
  • October 21: Virtual World Class Speaker Chantal Harvey
  • Novenber 18: Mixed Reality Final Project Presentation Event (Determine Campus Location ASAP)
  • Decmeber 02: Mixed Reality Final Project Team Presentation Event, Media Lab of the LSU Social Science Building, 4:30-7:30pmET

Project Tool Kit Manual for Public Distribution:

  • Team only responsible for suggestions and comments on draft versions. Final version will be distributed in early 2016.