Project’s Centerpiece: Christopher Thomas Story Published & Discussed on Georgia Public Radio

Crime Report Christopher Thomas cover story 2106.11.02


Today almost a year after we started this special JJIE Virtual World Journalism Project, we published the centerpiece of our student labors, the story and the machinima mini-documentary video: Christopher: A Child Abandoned, Deprived & Imprisoned. It was published on the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE.org) and simultaneously by The Crime Report housed at the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Both publications have a national reach to both general audience and those most interested in youth justice issues.

The finished story and machinima speak to the truly amazing work of the 11 students at Kennesaw State University, who did all the digging through thousands of pages of documents and traveling the state of Georgia for key interviews. All with the hope that Christopher Thomas’ story could be told widely to prevent him from being hidden from public view in Georgia prisons, which too often act as our country’s Gulags for young men of color.

You can hear a synopsis of the story at Georgia Public Radio’s (GPB) Second Thoughts program, where host Celeste Headlee interviews Kennesaw State University professor Leonard Witt, who oversaw the project, and project student Anastaciah Ondieki.

Project supervising professor Leonard Witt (left and far right), Georgia GPB Second Thoughts radio show host Celeste Headley (second from left) project student Anastaciah Ondieki (center) at GPB studio.
Project supervising professor Leonard Witt (left and far right), Georgia GPB Second Thoughts radio show host Celeste Headlee (second from left) and project student Anastaciah Ondieki (center) at GPB studio.

Christopher committed a crime at age 14, there is no doubt about that, but professor Witt says, “Really the story the students uncovered shows in great detail the failure of all of us in our society to find a way support our most neglected children. If we treated these kids differently, with compassion rather constant punishments, their outcomes might be much different.”

Christopher Thomas still has one more chance for the Georgia courts to amend his 40-year sentence thanks to the work of Stephen Reba, director of the Barton Law Center’s Appeal for Youth Clinic at Emory University. Reba has been trying to find justice for Thomas for years. Of course, we will keep everyone posted on that outcome.

Until then, thanks so much for watching this project unfold and special thanks again to Gwenette Writer Sinclair, who oversaw the virtual world sections of the project and to the Kennesaw State University students, including: Claire Bohrer, Kassidy Callahan, Kevin Enners, Ariel Greenaway, Cristina Guerra, Jourdan McGhee, Camille Moore, Anastaciah Ondieki and Jackson Walsh.


JJIE VW Journalism Project Awarded ISOJ Top Rated Research Paper

As if it was not a grand enough honor to present the JJIE Virtual World Journalism Project at the 17th International Symposium on Online Journalism last night, the research team was pleasantly surprised and greatly honored when presented with the ISOJ Top Rated Research Paper award for the project’s research, Journalism: How One University Used Virtual Worlds to Tell True Stories.

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Leonard Witt and Claire Bohrer accept the ISOJ Top Rated Research Paper award on behalf of the entire JJIE Virtual World Journalism research team.

 

All of us from the JJIE Virtual World Journalism Project Research Team would like to thank the #ISOJ for the opportunity to share our work at the conference in Austin, TX this weekend.

Moreover, we’d like to thank all who were involved with the project (aside from members of the research team), including ONA, who provided us with the funding to make the project possible, the JJIE staff members and Jim Walls, who taught us valuable lessons about investigative journalism, Fred Lewis and Claudette Enners, who supported and assisted with helpful knowledge during our weekly meetings, all our interviewees (from Steve Reba at the Barton Law Clinic at Emory who introduced us to the Christopher story, and Pete Colbenson, who shared his knowledge of juvenile justice, to the many people we interviewed to cover the stories), Kennesaw State University students and faculty who attended our campus presentation and helped to facilitate discussion of immersive journalism on campus, and lastly, the eleven student interns who worked tirelessly and collaboratively for 15+ weeks to bring this project to life. Thank you everyone!

For anyone interested in learning more about the project, visiting the JJIE Virtual World with your own avatar, or starting a similar project of your own, please do not hesitate to contact us directly through this site.

Also, please continue to follow our progress blog, as we ultimately hope to continue our project to expand the knowledge and possibilities of virtual world immersive journalism.

 


JJIE Virtual World Journalism Project Research Published to ISOJ


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For the past six months, members of the JJIE Virtual World Journalism team, Leonard Witt, Gwenette Writer Sinclair, Farooq Kperogi, Claire Bohrer and Solomon Negash have been working to compile the whole process and results discovered from the JJIE Virtual World Journalism Project into one cohesive research paper.

Finally, after all of the long hours of research, writing, and much collaboration, the JJIE Virtual World Journalism Project Research paper, Journalism: How One University Used Virtual Worlds to Tell True Stories, was published to #ISOJ, the official research journal of ISOJ, today, April 15, 2016. Read our journal article online here.

Along with the paper’s publication in the #ISOJ journal, the team was invited to present at The 17th International Symposium on Online Journalism in Austin, Texas, April 15-16, 2016. Today, April 15, between 4:45 – 6:00PM (Central Time), Leonard Witt, Gwenette Writer Sinclair and Claire Bohrer, as a part of a Research Panel, presented the JJIE Virtual World Journalism Project research on teaching immersive journalism in virtual worlds at universities.

You can view our presentation, along with all the other insightful presentations from various international editors, producers, executives, and academics on the ISOJ livestream. Look for us just after the 8:40:00 mark.


Introducing Immersive Journalism to Kennesaw State University

Last night, February 8, members of the JJIE Virtual World Team presented their Fall 2015 semester immersive journalism project to the students and faculty of Kennesaw State University.
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Beginning at 5:00PM, the Kennesaw State University Social Science auditorium #1021 was occupied by KSU students and faculty immersing themselves into Nonny de la Peña’s Sundance Film Festival virtual reality story, “Kiya.” Thanks to the donation from Unofficial Cardboard, makers of the Google Cardboard Viewers that the New York Times recommends for their Virtual Reality app (NYTVR), students and faculty were able to use Google Cardboard Viewers to see for themselves what this immersive journalism talk is about.

Once they had a feel for the emerging journalism platform, project interns, Claire Bohrer, Ariel Greenaway, and Camille Moore presented the project from their perspectives as the project’s journalists. Then, Leonard Witt, the project’s founder, presented another one of Nonny de la Peña’s videos, “One Dark Night,” in which actual 911 call recordings were used to tell the story of the day Trayvon Martin was shot & killed by neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman.

After seeing an expert’s work, the audience watched the JJIE Virtual World Team’s machinimas, The Kid, The Cop, The Punch, and a few minutes of Christopher: A Child, Abandoned, Deprived & Imprisoned. Once the audience saw the team’s work, virtual world expert, Gwenette Writer-Sinclair took them inworld to the JJIE Virtual World to show them how the project interns created these machinimas (action videos inside a virtual world).

The remainder of the presentation consisted of Q&A and discussion. KSU students and faculty expressed their interest in this emerging journalism platform and the possibilities of virtual reality in multiple different realms.

To continue the conversation, the JJIE Virtual World Journalism team plans to present the project to KSU journalism classes and also at the KSU Marietta Campus within the next few weeks.
More details (and further fascinating conversation) to come.


JJIE Virtual World Team to Present at Kennesaw State University

As promised, the JJIE Virtual World Team will be presenting their fifteen + weeks of hard work to Kennesaw State University on Monday, February 8.
If you are a KSU student or faculty member, you have probably seen the multiple e-mails and flyers around campus regarding the project presentation. If you have yet to be informed about the presentation, below are the presentation details.
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Immersive Journalism. It’s the “ultimate empathy machine,” says Nonny de la Peña, journalist and pioneer of immersive journalism in the virtual world.

This past semester, a group of KSU students experimented with this concept when they used traditional journalism principles in the virtual world to tell real stories of youth in the Juvenile Justice System.

Come to the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange: Virtual World Journalism presentation to experience this “ultimate empathy machine,” learn about an emerging journalism platform and see how to use it.

WHAT?: JJIE Virtual World Journalism
WHEN?: Monday, February 8, 2016 @ 5:00PM – 6:00PM
WHERE?: Social Sciences Building, Room 1021

 


Project Overview Video

Now that the internship is officially over, the JJIE Virtual World Team is finally presenting their work to the world. Presentations began with CNN in December, and now, we plan to present to the students and faculty at Kennesaw State University.
Below is a video we created to give our audience an overview of the project.


Our Team Meets with CNN Atlanta

Two weeks ago, Edward Thomas, the Product Manager of Mobile & Emerging Technology at CNN invited the JJIE Virtual Worlds Team to present the project at CNN.

At 11 a.m. today, seven members of the JJIE Virtual Worlds team, along with Publisher & Executive Director of the Center for Sustainable Journalism (CSJ), Professor Leonard Witt, CSJ Executive Editor John Fleming, Metaverse Strategist, Designer and Trainer Gwenette Writer-Sinclair, and JJIE web producer Christopher Hayden presented the result of a semester of hard work and dedication.

The primary goal of this presentation was to introduce our work to CNN producers, perhaps with the prospect of doing further collaborative experimentational work in the intersection of virtual reality and journalism.

Here is how we envision a partnership could work:

  • The Center for Sustainable Journalism would bring together college students, providing them with educational and experiential opportunities, as they work with virtual reality immersive journalism projects in collaboration with CNN.
  • In ongoing collaboration with the VW team, CNN product managers would provide the VW team with concepts based on CNN’s specific needs in the exploration of virtual reality storytelling techniques.
  • The VW team would design virtual world interactive scenarios and immersive journalism experiences, and then come back to the CNN team for critiques and collaborative improvements to reach project goals.
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Seven JJIE Virtual Worlds student interns (left to right; Jackson Walsh, Kevin Enners, Camille Moore, Claire Bohrer, Cristina Guerra, Ariel Greenaway, Anastaciah Ondieki) at the CNN Center.

At the beginning of the JJIE Virtual Worlds project, Professor Leonard Witt said,

“If we do excellent work, we will get recognition.”

Based on the interest of CNN, one of the world’s largest news organizations, in considering a long-term relationship with the virtual worlds team, I believe it’s safe to say that the team did excellent work, which clearly paid off with recognition and possible future collaborations.

Next Steps

  • The Christopher Thomas story is still a work in progress. The long text story needs to be edited once more before presenting it to CSJ editor John Fleming for possible JJIE publication. Furthermore, the machinima story, which was the initial, sole end product of this project (wow, how that has changed), must be re-edited into a final draft before its public debut.
  • The machinima “Forgive” is also a work in progress. Students Jackson Walsh and Cristina Guerra will continue to collaborate with Gwenette to complete their creative translation of a teenage girl’s poem to an emotionally evocative machinima.
  • Student researcher Claire Bohrer will continue to conduct research around this project to determine the effect of virtual worlds journalism versus textual journalism on an audience.

As we wrap up our main Christopher Thomas Story and our Forgive machinima, we are eager to see how many more doors can be opened and partnerships created with this ever-expanding project.


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.


Group Efforts for Team Success

The twelfth group meeting at the Center for Sustainable Journalism went rather differently from past group meetings. For one, the group wasn’t expected to be at the Center until 9AM, as opposed to our custom 8AM arrivals. However, this later arrival time was surely not a reflection of decreased motivation nor any lesser work for completion of the project. Rather, this later hour should be viewed as an extra hour of sleep so that each team member would be even more prepared to carry out the numerous tasks that the project still required for completion. Another major difference in this group meeting was the meeting format; rather than meeting as an entire team in the conference room, each member separated into his or her specific group upon arrival. Thus, each group focused on specialized tasks to progress towards the project’s completion.

Journalism
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With the Friday deadline approaching, the members of the journalism team were hard at work, writing their individual segments for the long text story. As outlined before, the individual segments are broken up into five major events and time periods in Christopher’s life: His childhood (from age 1-11), his behavioral problems and numerous foster care placements (from 12-13), the crime (age 14), Christopher’s case and trial, and lastly, Christopher’s current status, habeas corpus and case progression with his current attorney, Steve Reba. Focusing on their particular segments, the journalists’ time consisted of making phone calls to gather further contextual information, reading through the documents to confirm the facts were straight, and pulling out quotes from interviews to add to their segments. Although it is just the rough drafts that are due on Friday, the team hopes to have a more concise outline of the full text story so that Kevin Enners can start merging all of the segments together for the entire long text story.

MachinimaMachinimaCollagee

While the journalism team was researching and writing for the long text story, the machinima team was inworld on the computers, working on getting the virtual Pawn Shop (the scene of the crime) ready for filming. In addition, the team completed the creation of the avatars for all of the characters in the machinima story. To add to the virtual world story, the team also collected more items for the machinima onto a platform inworld. Furthermore, Eric Nelson launched the creation of a more straightforward layout for the script to enable more effective recording. Piece-by-piece, the machinima story is coming together as the team prepares for filming.

Public Relations
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As the journalism and machinima team were establishing the story in text and inworld, the public relations team was focusing on promoting the project through funding in person. The team met with JJIE’s grant writer, Erica Honeycutt, who spoke about how to approach creating a grant for the project. Erica provided the public relations team with tips on grant-seeking basics: to know your mission, to determine what kind of support you are looking for, to discover who is interested in funding virtual reality, and to decide which foundations, corporations, or programs best fit with your mission. For the next week, the PR team will be researching and creating a list of potential contacts that may be interested in funding the project.

Although the members of the Virtual World Team were separated into various groups this morning, the project continues to be a team effort. Moving forward, the journalism team, the machinima team, and the public relations team will all be working as one to bring light to this story and the workings of the Juvenile Justice System.