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China’s leading media outlet Caixin explores VR journalism

Photo from Caixin Video.

While the public is still excited about the amazing experience VR has brought to us in the sphere of entertainment, the video arm of Chinese news organization Caixin Media has become a pioneer in China by making virtual reality a new medium for journalism.

Caixin Media, founded by renowned journalist Hu Shuli, is a media group focusing on financial and business news with online content, print publications and video content.

“The spirit of VR technology is in line with the goal of documentaries to seek objectivity and truth,” Qiu Jiaqiu, the director of Caixin Video, told AllChinaTech when asked why they’re making VR documentaries.

The result of this attempt, which combines the investigative skills of a media group with an edgy means of communication, was the documentary A Village Kindergarten in China (translated from its Chinese name), the first VR documentary in China.

Screenshot from the documentary The Kindergarten in Mountain Village (A Village Kindergarten in China)

The first VR news documentary in China

Caixin set foot in VR at the beginning of 2015 after Qiu proposed the idea. In mid-2015, Caixin decided to work with the United Nations Millennium Campaign (UNMC) and the China Development Research Foundation (CDRF) to produce the documentary.

This film talks about the lives of a group of left-behind children in a village in the southwestern province of Guizhou. It includes interviews with their teachers in the village’s kindergarten and with their parents, who left to make a living in big cities.

An official report from 2013 stated that 61 million, or every one in five, children in rural areas get left behind.

Qiu said that as a media outlet, the VR subject ought to be related to social problems that raise public awareness and be thought-provoking. Part of the reason why they chose left-behind kids as the first subject is because Caixin has already been following it for many years.

It took the Caixin film team of about 20 staff four months to make the documentary, from the topic choosing to the release of the trailer last September at Summer Davos 2015.

Until now, this film has mostly been shown at domestic and International conferences and seminars. “What if decision makers or interest groups watch this VR documentary?” Qiu said. “Given the realism of VR, maybe they would be affected and do something to help these kids.”

It is now also available online on Caixin’s mobile app and on the platform of LeVR, Caixin’s partner.

Plans for 2016: more than 10 documentaries

“VR videos are definitely not going to replace conventional(2D) videos for journalism, but there are certain topics that can be better presented in VR videos,” said Qiu.

According to him, the first type is sudden catastrophes or environmental accidents that require long shots, for instance, the earthquake in Nepal, the buried mangrove or the landslides in Shenzhen last December, which Caixin documented with a series of VR videos. According to Qiu, this is another application of VR technology in daily news coverage.

Screenshot from Caixin’s short VR video series on Chinese Spring Festival.

The second type are social topics that concern the masses. Caixin Video did a newsreel series on the large annual migration during Chinese Spring Festival. The third type are hard-to-access stories like stories of people living in remote places.

Caixin is planning around 12 VR documentaries for 2016. As Qiu disclosed, there are projects including a series on people living beside the borders, one on the ups and downs of the Chinese steel industry and one on the Chinese folk art of Shuochang, a narrative art form that includes singing.

For Caixin Video, VR will definitely be a focus in 2016. If it works, they might become a content provider that makes customized VR videos for enterprises in various sectors including education and travel. This might be a possible way to monetize in the future. For now, Caixin and its partners like UNMC, LeVR and CDRF are providing VR content for free and covering the cost themselves.

“But whether it works or not, what we are doing will not be in vain. These films are recording the times,” Qiu said.

(Top photo from Caixin Video)

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