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Cronkite's Hill Wins ONA's Journalism 360 Challenge Grant

November 30, 2020
RethaHill

New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab Director Retha Hill (right) speaks with student Velvet Wahl regarding a class project. (Photo by Kasey Brammell).

By Kasey Brammell

The director of the New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication has been named one of 12 winners and awarded a grant by the 2020 Online News Association’s (ONA) Journalism 360 Challenge.

Retha Hill says she will use the grant to increase the number of women of color involved in immersive journalism by creating a 12- to 14- week online program, structured as a digital class.

ONA’s Journalism 360 Challenge supports journalists around the world seeking to use immersive storytelling, including 360 video, spatial audio, augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality and more.

“I’m one of the few African American women who are actively creating immersive content in journalism. I really want to expand the number of women of color in this, particularly African American women, who are professors in journalism,” said Hill. “They are the ones who are going to be teaching students, whether that’s at historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions or students in general.”

Participants in Hill’s training program will attend weekly live sessions to learn different aspects of immersive technologies including augmented reality, virtual reality and interactive content creation using Unity, an engine that creates video games and other interactive experiences. Between sessions, there will be practice projects to master the week’s concepts. At the end of the program, there will be a capstone project that combines all of the learned technologies.

“The work Retha will be doing under this grant has a dual importance: it advances new forms of storytelling and unlocks the keys to technology for women of color,” said Kristin Gilger, interim dean of the Cronkite School. “We couldn’t be more pleased that Retha was selected for this important project.”

Hill believes that interactive and immersive storytelling is the up-and-coming method to be used in all fields, including journalism. “This is the calm before the storm,” she said.

As tools become more available, Hill sees media organizations using these modes of storytelling to better illustrate how cultural and historical events unfold in locations around the world.

Overall, Hill intends to increase diversity in classrooms and newsrooms in terms of both demographics and skills. “What people are looking for, in addition to great reporters and investigators, they’re looking for people who can come into these institutions and do interactive, immersive media. Anywhere you can increase your skills is attractive to people,” she said.