Can virtual reality improve juvenile justice reporting?

  By Susannah Nesmith, CJR APRIL 29, 2015 712 WORDS   Students at Kennesaw State…

Georgia (Apr 29, 2015)

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By Susannah Nesmith, CJR

APRIL 29, 2015



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 piecepublished 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.” …


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit