#rp15 Speaker: Nonny de la Peña


Nonny de la Peña; photo credit: The Conference/Peter Malmqvist

She is the “Godmother of Virtual Reality", a pioneer of immersive journalism, and the initiator of the Oculus Rift “Project Syria” – and in May, Nonny de la Peña will share her insights on the future of journalism with us. 

Virtual Reality will change journalism forever, according to Nonny de la Peña. What de la Peña calls “immersive journalism”, is her representation of a new kind of non-fictional storytelling. The aim is for viewers to be able to witness events and situations more immediately. For that purpose, you need a pair of Virtual Reality glasses, like the Oculus Rift, that immerses the wearer into a 3D world where you can experience the events “up close”. Virtual Reality is not exactly a new idea, but technological advances allow for ever more sophisticated applications of the concept.

Harvard graduate de la Peña, currently a research fellow at the University of Southern California’s “Interactive Media Arts Department”, worked as a Newsweek reporter for many years, writes for the New York Times, and has expanded her journalistic background to become a documentary filmmaker. She has also been working to facilitate the use of VR in journalism for the past few years, as an entirely new way of telling unusual stories. Last year, for instance, she launched “Project Syria”, a close-up look at the everyday lives of Syrian refugees that was presented at last year’s Sundance Festival.

“The greatest challenge is to represent emotions and situations realistically,” says de la Peña. Detailed research and reconstruction work is crucial, so her journalism background comes in useful. The US journalist sent colleagues to Syria and Iraq to collect audio samples from local archives, to create a more authentic experience. And the situations the observer lands in are intense: In one of her creations, the viewer is right in the middle of a bomb explosion on a street in Syria. “You know you’re ‘here’, but you feel like you’re ‘there’ too. And that experience is very unique, more like a whole-body experience really,” de la Peña  said in an interview recently.

“This is the future of journalism. There is no doubt in mind. It is visual, it’s intense, and it’s emphatic. I’m not saying it will replace newspapers, radio or broadcasting. But that this is a new platform to tell important stories,” says de la Peña. We will hear more about what other visions Nonny de la Peña has for the future, how complicated her job is technically, and what kind of stories she wants to tell with VR, in May, when the “Godmother of Virtual Reality” comes to #rp15. 

Nonny de la Peña @immersivejourno
Project Syria