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July 11, 2017, 9 a.m.

The Journalism 360 Challenge announced Tuesday that it was awarding $285,000 to 11 projects to delve further into the journalistic possibilities for virtual reality and augmented reality, going beyond the quarter-of-a-million dollars it originally proposed for the project.

Google News Lab, the The Knight Foundation, and the Online News Association launched the challenge back in March as a way to build a network of VR innovators while also supporting the forefront of immersive storytelling. (Disclosure: The Knight Foundation also provides some funding to Nieman Lab.) The call for submissions made it clear that they were not looking to fund content: “We are primarily looking for projects that will yield lessons and ‘how-tos’ for the field of journalism and encourage reporters and editors to think differently.”

“We received over 800 applications which we felt demonstrated the range that journalists are experimenting with VR, AR and 360 to tell meaningful stories,” ONA director of programs Jennifer Mizgata said. “We were so blown away by the quality of the projects that we increased the funding to match the needs of this great group.”

The Challenge winners range from a daily newspaper in Arizona documenting the future of the U.S./Mexico border wall, to a Ukrainian media company visualizing scenes of natural disasters or other news events, to a physics lab in Massachusetts developing ways to immerse audiences in underwater stories. Five projects are receiving the top amount of $30,000 and the rest are being awarded amounts between $15,000 and $28,000 to fund the early stages of their ideas.

The winners will spend the next six months to a year building out, testing, and reshaping their projects and will reunite at both the ONA conference this October and a demo day in early 2018. “We’re building a community of creators who can help bring immersive storytelling to a wider audience through grants, education, and training,” Laura Hertzfeld, the director of Journalism 360, said in a statement.

Here is a full list of the winners:

Aftermath VR app by New Cave Media ($20,000 | Project lead: Alexey Furman | Kyiv, Ukraine | @alexeyfurman): Creating an app that would apply photogrammetry, which uses photography to measure and map objects, to recreate three-dimensional scenes of news events (such as mass shootings or natural disasters) and narrate what happened through voiceover and archival footage.

AI-generated Anonymity in VR Journalism by University of British Columbia ($30,000 | Project leads: Taylor Owen, Kate Hennessy and Steve DiPaola | Vancouver, Canada | @taylor_owen, @katehennessy, @DipaolaSteve): Helping reporters test whether an emotional connection can be maintained in immersive storytelling formats when a character is algorithmically distorted so that their identity is hidden. The tool aims to provide investigative journalists with a means to preserve the confidentiality of a subject, while using an animation to ensure viewers remain emotionally connected.

Community and Ethnic Media Journalism 360 by City University of New York ($27,000 | Project lead: Bob Sacha | New York | @bobsacha): Making immersive storytelling more accessible to community and ethnic media through a program that provides hands-on training and access to equipment. The team also aims to produce a “how to” guide for others on using immersive storytelling to cover local happenings, such as festivals.

Dataverses: Information Visualization into VR Storytelling by The Outliers Collective ($25,000 | Project lead: Oscar Marin Miro | Barcelona, Spain | @outliers_es, @oscarmarinmiro): Making it easier to integrate data visualizations into immersive storytelling through a platform that would allow the integration of virtual reality videos and photos with facts. For example, a user could show a map of the Earth highlighting places without water access and linking each area to a virtual reality video that explores the experience of living there.

Facing Bias by The Washington Post ($30,000 | Project lead: Emily Yount | Washington, D.C. | @PostGraphics, @emilyyount): Developing a smartphone tool that will use augmented reality to analyze a reader’s facial expressions while they view images and statements that may affirm or contradict their beliefs. The aim is to give readers a better understanding of the bias we all bring to a story and to improve trust in news by creating a personal connection to the content.

Spatial and Head-Locked Stereo Audio for 360 Journalism by NPR ($15,000 | Project lead: Nicholas Michael | Washington, D.C. | @NPR, @nicktmichael): Developing best practices for immersive storytelling audio by producing two virtual reality stories with a particular focus on sound-rich scenes. The project will explore, test and share spatial audio findings from these experiments.

Immersive Storytelling from the Ocean Floor by the MIT Future Ocean Lab ($30,000 | Project lead: Allan Adams | Cambridge, Massachusetts | @MIT_FutureOcean, @AllanAdamsYG): Developing a camera and lighting system to produce immersive stories underwater and uncover the hidden experiences that lie beneath the ocean’s surface.

Location-Based VR Data Visualization by Arizona State University, Cronkite School of Journalism ($30,000 | Project lead: Retha Hill | Tempe, Arizona | @Cronkite_ASU, @rethahill): Helping journalists and others easily create location-based data visualizations in a virtual reality format. For example, users could explore crime statistics or education data on particular neighborhoods through data overlays on virtual reality footage of these areas.

Voxhop by Virtual Collaboration Research Inc. ($30,000 | Project lead: Ainsley Sutherland | Cambridge, Massachusetts | @VCRconnect): Making it easy to craft audio-driven virtual reality stories through a tool that would allow journalists to upload, generate or construct a 3-dimensional environment and narrate the scene from multiple perspectives. For example, a reporter could construct a three-dimensional crime scene and include voiceovers detailing accounts of what transpired in the space.

Scene VR by Northwestern University Knight Lab ($20,000 | Project lead: Zach Wise | Evanston, Illinois | @zlwise, @knightlab): Developing a tool that would make it easier for journalists and others to create virtual reality photo experiences that include interactive navigation, using their smartphone or a camera.

The Wall by The Arizona Republic and USA TODAY Network ($28,000) | Project lead: Nicole Carroll | Phoenix | @azcentral, @nicole_carroll): Examining the audience engagement power of combining an important national story with new technology by documenting all phases of the proposed border wall between the United States and Mexico. The project would use virtual reality overlaid with relevant data and include aerial video, as well as a series of documentary shorts.

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