USA TODAY NETWORK, part of Gannett Co, Inc., launched today “The Wall: Unknown Stories, Unintended Consequences.” This landmark multi-media report examines in unprecedented detail President Donald Trump’s signature campaign promise to build “a great wall” on the U.S.-Mexico border. It reveals the challenges and consequences, including a NETWORK investigation finding that building a wall in mostly wide-open Texas could require disrupting or seizing nearly 5,000 individual parcels of property.
This immersive experience encompasses virtual reality, bots, aerial and 360-degree video, documentaries, photos, podcasts, LiDAR data, exclusive reporting and an upcoming long-form film. “The Wall” brings the stories of the region to life in a way never seen before. The combined effort of more than 30 reporters, photographers and videographers from NETWORK newsrooms along the border in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas provides a comprehensive understanding of the proposed border wall, those who will be affected, and all of the issues surrounding it. This project is led by The Arizona Republic and other newsrooms along the border where journalists have personal connections and decades of experience covering the topic.
NETWORK journalists flew every mile of the border in a helicopter to film and map the line, to document the existing fences and create a permanent record of what is there before any new wall construction begins. For the first time ever, people will be able to view the entire border in high definition video, where towns and homes abut the border, where fences begin and end, and the sometimes hundreds of miles of gaps in between.
Working with NETWORK producers, developers and emerging tech teams, the journalists interpreted the meaning and consequences of the proposed border wall in formats that pushed the boundaries of technology. More than a dozen stories and documentary-style features take viewers inside the report. An interactive map lets users see every foot of the NETWORK’s end-to-end flight of the border. Ten podcasts share the journalists’ behind-the-scenes experiences, and allow listeners to launch chatbots for more information. A Facebook Show page will house all 13 documentaries. And a special presentation in virtual reality lets users step inside the stories and stand at locations along the border itself.
“We’ve got the sources, we’ve done the homework and we understand the issues. We’ve examined the border from thousands of feet in the air and from a tunnel 70 feet underground. We’ve roamed the ocean and desert with Border Patrol agents and the hills with armed vigilantes. We’ve learned something new at every turn,” said Nicole Carroll, Vice President/News and Editor of The Arizona Republic.
For the VR experience, the NETWORK team collected LiDAR data at eight hotspots along the border; designers then used photogrammetry technology to create a virtual representation of the environment for users to explore. The VR experience, made for the HTC Vive, includes modeled terrain and real audio from the locations, plus curated journalism from throughout the project “The Wall.”
“This unprecedented project is a testament to the innovation happening across the USA TODAY NETWORK,” said Maribel Wadsworth, SVP & Chief Transformation Officer, Gannett. “This project highlights our unique ability to leverage our local footprint along the border to educate and inform Americans on a crucial topic at an important time, as Congress debates funding for the proposed border wall.”
“We set out to bring the border to life in groundbreaking ways, through mini-documentaries, behind-the-scenes podcasts and an interactive map that offers the most exhaustive view of the U.S.-Mexico border,” said Kevin Poortinga, VP, Gannett Innovation Lab. “With the HTC Vive headset, we are transporting you to the border. That technological prowess is powerful when paired with informative stories that spark curiosity and help you relate to the people experiencing life along the border.”
In July, the project was selected as one of 11 winners of the Journalism 360 challenge, an initiative that “seek[s] to help develop and expand [the] best practices in immersive storytelling, including narratives, ethics, and production.” The project received a $28,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Google News Lab. ‘The Wall’ was also selected for a grant by the Center For Cooperative Media for collaborative engagement efforts.
For more on “The Wall: Unknown Stories, Unintended Consequences,” go to thewall.usatoday.com.