This piece takes viewers to Chernobyl 30 years later through the eyes of a survivor. It is a 360 video (virtual reality), and was the first one any of our all-student team ever produced. We shot this in the exclusion zone of Chernobyl in less than two days on a six GoPro camera 360 rig. Although we only had one day of virtual reality videography training, we did a lot of preproduction. We prepared for weeks to do the shoot knowing that there would be no working electricity and that if any one of the six cameras failed our footage would be ruined.
After our shoot, PBS Frontline expressed interest in the piece. To correspond with the anniversary date, we edited the project in less than two weeks (without much sleep) on MacBook Pros that could barely handle the complicated nature of the editing. None of us had prior experience stitching and editing 360 footage.
Since it was published on April 26, it’s received more than two-million views. Frontline had only done two other 360 pieces before and each had much larger budgets and dedicated outsourced editors and computer professionals working from very capable computers. The project we did that received a similar view count was produced by four students with one professional journalist offering advice.
Another innovative part of the project was that it was specifically geared toward social media and mobile audiences. To fully appreciate the video, people can watch on their phones and move the phone around, to really feel like they’re in Chernobyl and see the extent of aftermath. The audience has been extremely engaged with the project on Facebook. More than 2,700 people commented and 30,000 liked the post. It was shared almost 20,000 times.
This project also proved to be a prime example of an academic institution interacting with a professional media organization to deliver good journalism. We utilized our fresh abilities and Frontline used their Facebook push platform to ensure that our content reached as wide an audience as possible.
Another thing this experience taught us is that since VR videography is so new, even the most seasoned professionals are still learning the ropes. So we as students have entered this realm of technology and now have similar technical skill sets to some of the cutting-edge journalists we most admire.
As journalists we learned not to get complacent in our abilities and we will now always be looking for opportunities to tell stories in new ways. We learned to work together and that with a great story, and even with the most minimal technology, anything is possible.