The augmented reality team at USA Today closed out a prolific year of immersive storytelling with a hard-hitting companion piece exploring the controversial conflict in Afghanistan.
This week, the publication ran an investigative story by reporter Brett Murphy that uncovered the details of a 2008 US military operation involving security contractor GS4 that resulted in dozens of civilian casualties.
The AR action takes place within a circular map anchored in the viewer's physical space, with the scale of the map expanding and contracting in scale as the story unfolds. The experience displays photos of key players and scenes from the story overlooking the circular anchor. As animated icons on the map recreate the story, virtual aircraft circle the map with smoke from the skirmish drifting upward. Readers receive more details by clicking on hotspots throughout the experience.
After testing the waters of AR in 2018, in 2019 USA Today published nine AR new stories, including experiences featuring a slave ship from 1619, Oscar-nominated costumes, the USA Women's Soccer Team, the world's tallest skyscrapers, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Apollo 11 and NHL star John Carlson.
"We challenged ourselves by aiming to develop 12 interactive stories. With the support of several teams across the organization, I'm proud to say we are on target and have reached several milestones along the way," said Ray Soto, director of emerging technology at USA Today (and NR30 member), via Twitter.
Conversely, The New York Times, which broke out as a pioneer in AR journalism a couple of years ago, published just a single AR story after taking the year to examine their immersive storytelling practices, with Graham Roberts, the media company's former director of immersive storytelling (and NR30 alumnus) departing for Google.
The body of work from the two media companies, along with a revitalized practice at Time magazine, serves as an introduction on how reporters and their digital colleagues can continue to add value to news coverage.