Kennesaw State Students Release Virtual World Production
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.
Can Virtual Reality Improve Juvenile Justice Reporting?
April 29, 2015 Susannah Nesmith – Columbia Journalism Review
Students at Kennesaw State University outside of Atlanta are set to embark on a fascinating experiment in using virtual reality technology to bring to life the stories of children caught in the juvenile justice system.
The project, which recently received a $35,000 grant from the Online News Association’s $1M Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education, aims to create mini-documentaries that give voice to children who are often marginalized in traditional coverage of juvenile justice issues by the confidentiality that is designed to protect them. Protecting confidentiality in, say, a typical broadcast story—a child is heard as a disembodied robot voice or seen as a pair of hands or a silhouette—can dilute the story’s impact.
Kennesaw State, which runs the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, has experience doing these kinds of stories—and even their best work shows the limitations confidentiality can pose. In a heartbreaking piece published in their magazine, the subject of the story, a violent 13-year-old who was locked up in a juvenile facility and wasn’t getting the psychiatric treatment his mother believed he needed, is identified only by a pseudonym and his experiences are explained by his mother.
The folks at Kennesaw State see virtual reality technology as a way to create compelling documentary-style films that let the children tell their own stories while still protecting their identity. In the project’s own words: “As life-like avatars, they will walk and talk audiences through their story of being in detention, of being arrested, of being homeless, and of being lost in the system.”
Students recruited for the project will use machinima, a technique first developed by gamers to make mini-movies of their exploits in video games. Len Witt, the Robert D. Fowler Distinguished Chair in Communication and journalism professor at Kennesaw State, heads the project and says he and his team have already begun to recruit students and hope to have two begin working over the summer to set up the architecture.
“If you get the right students, they’ve been playing round with this for years and in ways none of us understand,” Witt said. “They’re going to scout locations and build the sets the students will use in the fall. A city street will be there for them to use. A prison will be there for them to use, maybe several prisons. Then we’ll run some of the classes in this virtual world. Then we’ll ask to journalism students to go out and do the stories.”
Witt hopes to produce a couple of mini-documentaries by the end of the first semester. From there, he envisions integrating the technique into the work the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange does and maybe making the documentaries interactive.
The documentaries will be available via mobile apps, meaning the effort won’t be limited by the shifting release date of Facebook’s Oculus Rift goggle technology. Kennesaw State brought in virtual world developer Gwenette Writer Sinclair to consult on the project. Writer Sinclair has worked for Kennesaw State in the past developing the university’s Second Life campus.
“Universities and newsrooms need to do that, go out and find those people they can bring in to do these new things,” Witt said.
The ONA mini-grant was also key.
“There is this infrastructure out there to help niche nonprofits to thrive and experiment,” Witt said. “With this, we can show that high quality public policy-oriented journalism has a place.”
I wrote last year about a different ONA grant recipient using those resources to train minority students in investigative reporting while supplementing the investigative resources at the Atlanta Journal Constitution and the local PBS affiliate. That effort resulted in stories in the AJC and on WSB-TVabout a local politician with tens of thousands of dollars mysteriously missing from his campaign financial reports.
It will be months, at least, until we see results from the ONA-supported experiment at Kennesaw State. I’ll be watching with interest. In my experience reporting on juvenile justice, even finding victims willing to talk can be a struggle, in part because they often have little input into how the story will be told. Technology, as Kennesaw State aims to show, has the potential to change the way stories about some of the most vulnerable people are told.
Original Story Can Be Found Here:
“Students at Kennesaw State University outside of Atlanta are set to embark on a fascinating experiment in using virtual reality technology to bring to life the stories of children caught in the juvenile justice system.
The project, which recently received a $35,000 grant from the Online News Association’s $1M Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education, aims to create mini-documentaries that give voice to children who are often marginalized in traditional coverage of juvenile justice issues by the confidentiality that is designed to protect them. Protecting confidentiality in, say, a typical broadcast story—a child is heard as a disembodied robot voice or seen as a pair of hands or a silhouette—can dilute the story’s impact.”
Original Story Can Be Found Here: CJR.org/united_states_project/juvenile_justice_virtual_reality.php