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ABC News Says It's Taking Virtual Reality Seriously

What makes it different from a normal news story? "VR is truly objective."

ABC News

ABC News is hopping on the virtual reality bandwagon.

In a release timed to coincide with a story on “Nightline” this evening, ABC created a special 360-degree video companion piece, intended to be viewed on a mobile phone with a Google Cardboard-style headset. It’s said to be the first of many VR projects that will live at ABCNews.com/VR.

It’s worth noting that one of the people leading the project, digital executive producer Dan Silver, was not initially sold on VR. A former documentary filmmaker, he joined the company earlier this year, and it was only after getting up to speed with existing talks about producing 360-degree video that he “got” virtual reality’s potential.

“At first, I thought, ‘Okay, that’s kind of cool for experiences, but I don’t get how you can tell a story with this,’” Silver told Re/code. “It’s a whole new way of piecing things together, like going from editing on a flatbed to using Final Cut Pro for the first time.”

He also likened virtual reality to IMAX: After seeing one type of content, such as an educational film at a museum, people might think IMAX is one thing. But after they see how Christopher Nolan shot portions of “The Dark Knight” in IMAX, he added, that changes. In other words, one piece of good content can nudge the needle forward.

ABC’s first VR story takes viewers on a tour of Damascus, Syria, led by reporter Alexander Marquardt. It examines how in some parts of the war-torn country’s capital, normal life goes on; in others, Syrians are scrambling to keep ancient art and religious sites safe from destruction.

To produce the VR component of the story, ABC partnered with virtual reality film startup Jaunt. Silver said Jaunt processed and stitched together the raw video files — a necessary step whenever video shot by several cameras is combined into one file — but that ABC still did all the narrative video editing, as it would for any other story.

“VR is truly objective,” Jaunt CEO Jens Christensen said. “When you’re there, you feel like you’re actually on a rooftop in Damascus. That feeling of being there and getting an unfiltered view is very powerful.”

Silver said he expects some future VR productions to be made specifically for the Web, while others like the Syria piece will accompany ABC programs such as “Nightline” and “20/20.”

And what will be the next project? He’s not sure yet, but a couple hot contenders include Pope Francis’s upcoming U.S. tour and, of course, the 2016 presidential race.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.