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In The News 

How virtual reality could change the journalism industry



Barbara Allen, who approached me in 2012 to see how VR could be used to heighten the storytelling powers of journalism. We at Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab had been thinking for years about the potential of immersive journalism, but until Barbara knocked on my door, we didn’t have the time, motivation, or journalistic expertise to create a simulation. It took us a while to find the right scenario for the project and we discussed several possibilities. 

Eventually, Barbara came up with the brilliant idea to simulate the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, so that users could get a better sense of the human terror and suffering caused by the storm, experiences that traditional media could only hint at through distant camera shots or in written reports. Barbara had covered the storm, and done a lot of documentary work, so she was well acquainted with the kind of details that could bring this terrible scenario to life.

Re-engineering journalism with VR

Working with Stanford’s world-class virtual reality lab, documentary filmmaker Barbara E. Allen developed a prototype that lets users experience the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina from a New Orleans roof top. She gives a sneak peak into the project, which drew on her filmmaking and storytelling skills as well as her love of video-gaming.

Filmmaker Likes History

ABOUT MIDDLE PASSAGE: “The name comes from the treacherous journey taken by slave ships from Africa to the Americas. I associate the Middle Passage with survival, strength, courage, beating the odds and the triumph of the human spirit.

“To be successful, my company will be confronted with all of these aspects and more. The name is a constant reminder that no matter what, we are descendents of a powerful and unstoppable people.”


BIG BREAK: Allen never looked for just one big break. “That’s kind of a Hollywood creation that doesn’t give credit and respect to all the people who toil daily at their craft to create a significant body of work.”

She credits her “true break” to her mother Rose. “She is the one who encouraged me to go my own way without fear of reprisal or ridicule.”

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