'Godmother of virtual reality' on the new world of immersive journalism

Storytelling is being reshaped by technology, but it won't reach the mass market until it's less expensive, said Nonny de la Peña.

The ‘Godmother of virtual reality’ has told how immersive journalism is ringing in a new era of storytelling.

Nonny de la Peña, founder of Emblematic, spoke about the power and effectiveness of putting people in the middle of the big issues shaping our world at SXSW on Tuesday.

The award-winning journalist has used cutting-edge technology that allows us to come face-to-face with those impacted by stories like unrest in Syria or police brutality.

"You don’t experience your world flat, you experience it with volume," de la Peña said. "I’m not saying radio’s going away, it’s stronger than ever with great podcasts. But this medium is still waiting for the content makers to come in and turn it into something special."

She told how, in some cases, immersive experiences are physically helping people’s lives. She briefly explained how a group of burns victims lived a day in the life of a penguin through VR. The level of pain recorded after removing their bandages was much less than those just given morphine.

De la Peña also spoke of the dangers of new tech in the age of "fake news," including new lip-syncing tools that turn audio clips into realistic video. Around 126,000 rumors were spread by three million people on Twitter from 2006 to 2017, according to MIT research. That means false news reached more people than the truth (a word that has become brands’ focal point in the past year).

Asked about using VR technology to tackle the gun control debate, she said it’s something she’s been thinking about since her kids’ school campus was shut down because of a threatening tweet which included a picture of a weapon.

The Godmother believes VR story consumption will reach the mass market when network providers finally nail 5G. Many publishers are experimenting with VR right now, but cost remains an issue.