Conference info

New tools of storytelling: Aid or hindrance?

CIJ Well Told’s panel discussion on “Interactivity vs Storytelling” brought together Zillah Watson from BBC‘s VR studio, Ben Fogarty, CEO of and host Joe Bond from The Spectator to discuss whether new tools and technologies enhance storytelling or whether they just get in the way.

According to Zillah Watson, VR works for journalism by “employing traditional storytelling techniques brought to a new medium”. She explains that VR has changed the way we tell stories. “VR is experiential: audiences are able to see or feel an experience for themselves, it takes audiences on an epic journey.”

For Ben Fogarty,  VR needs to look real. “If we’re creating something, for example, an immersive journey to a new world; it better look real – we don’t want to be gimmicky,” he says. “To be successful, the VR needs to create a real and immersive journey,” Watson added.

The panel also discussed how VR adds to a story and should be used when it can tell a story better than television. The BBC VR documentary Damming The Nile told the story of the great renaissance in Ethiopia and the geopolitics of building a dam and has been successful with VR headsets as it allows users to see and the experience the story for themselves, said Watson.

The documentary had to be re-versioned for YouTube, Watson added. “The VR and 360 elements didn’t work well without a headset, you have to re-version the story for a new version,” she said.

At Holoscribe, journalists also use 360 to “allow a user to control their path, instead of dropping them in and telling them a story,” Fogarty explained. Wilson agreed, “More seeing, less telling.”

Wilson also explained that you need a really strong narrative to carry users in VR. “In 360, users will engage and revisit stories where they can pick characters and stories,” Fogarty added.

Joe Bond also talked about how VR can be used to capture serious topics. Watson told of a shocking experience of VR in Prague [where the participant experience] execution, which was interesting but not something the BBC would explore, she said. Instead, the BBC is exploring audience focused pieces and use audience testing to work out how best to use VR.

In the near-future, BBC VR will bring quality scriptwriters and drama that creates pace and tension to users in an immersive VR experience based around Doctor Who, Watson said.

Words by Molly Dowrick

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