One of the first campaign promises Donald Trump made after announcing his candidacy for president was the idea to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. Despite objections from critics over the cost and feasibility of the project, the Trump administration has continued taking steps to turn it into a reality.
Following an extensive nine-month reporting process, the USA Today Network has unveiled an interactive, multi-media report detailing the challenges and consequences of the proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall.
“The Wall: Untold Stories and Unintended Consequences” incorporates a variety of tools and technologies including virtual reality, bots, aerial and 360-degree video, LiDAR data and podcasts to provide readers with an all-encompassing look at the border.
The special project was led by The Arizona Republic and other network newsrooms in California, New Mexico and Texas. In total, more than 30 reporters, photographers and videographers contributed to the report. Last July, the project received a $28,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Google News Lab as part of the Journalism 360 challenge.
“We wanted to examine if a wall could be built, what it would cost, and the impact it could have,” said Nicole Carroll, Republic editor and vice president of news/Southwest regional editor, USA Today Network. “We also wanted to let readers experience the information for themselves.”
A major part of the project involved flying every mile of the border in a helicopter to film and map fencing already in place. An interactive digital map allows readers to select any spot on the border, see high-definition aerial footage at that exact location and view what type of fencing currently exists in the area.
“Our overall goal was education,” Carroll said. “We aren’t telling people what or how to think. We just want to make sure they have all the information they need to make a decision.”
The network also utilized photogrammetry technology to develop a virtual representation of the border environment for the HTC Vive. The report includes more than a dozen stories and documentary-style features, as well as 10 podcasts detailing the journalists’ behind-the-scenes experiences. Each podcast has a keyword that listeners can text to a chatbot and learn more about the particular topic.
“We’ve always believed in innovative storytelling. We want to give people the information they need, however they want it,” Carroll said. “With this project, we pushed our use of video, VR and interactive graphics in new ways so our audience could experience the story firsthand.”