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College of Media broadens VR storytelling efforts with new Innovators-in-Residence


This spring, the West Virginia University College of Media will continue to push the boundaries of storytelling with the help of two new media innovators.

Phoebe Connelly, executive producer of video at The Washington Post, and Danese Kenon, assistant managing editor of visuals at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, will partner with College of Media students and faculty to test new ways of telling immersive video and visual stories in 360.

Connelly and Kenon are the College’s newest Innovators-in-Residence, a program that was recently expanded in 2015 with the help of $200,000 in support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. These Innovators-in-Residence will be partnered with college faculty to co-teach an immersion course in experimental journalism, exposing students to emerging media technology and creating new practices for the industry.

In collaboration with Ogden Newspapers Visiting Professor in Media Innovation Nancy Andrews, Associate Professor Dana Coester and Lecturer David Smith, the Innovators-in-Residence are working with students to use 360° video and audio in a real-life immersive reporting project. Students have the opportunity to work with a variety of cameras, tools and headsets, such as the Ricoh Theta, Matterport, Kodak PixPro SP360, Go-Pro 360°Hero rig, and others as they experiment with new story models.
The Innovator-in-Residence program was launched in spring 2014 to bring to campus top media professionals who are leading experimental change in their newsrooms and to help cultivate a culture of innovation at the College. The program is a cornerstone of the College’s new Media Innovation Center located in the new Evansdale Crossing building.

Coester, who serves as the creative director for the Center and directs the Innovator-in-Residence program, says collaborating with industry professionals gives students a unique learning experience.

“Working side by side with professionals who are actively innovating in the field gives students a taste for what’s possible–as well as a healthy reality check for how rough and tumble change can be,” said Coester.

In addition to providing enhanced curriculum, resources and new technology skills, the program provides a unique opportunity for students and industry professionals to tackle current—and anticipated—challenges in the media industry.

“Telling stories in 360 allows us to bring readers to the center of an unfolding story—but it also brings new challenges when constructing a narrative,” said Connelly. “We’re sorting out these issues as a profession, and this class offers students the chance to work through the same questions journalists are dealing with in the field right now.”

Phoebe ConnellyAs executive producer of video, Connelly is the product owner for video technology and oversees production of original video at The Washington Post in Washington, D.C. She has coordinated major event coverage, including the 2014 midterm election and the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. Previously, she was involved in crowd-sourced projects and social media campaigns for Yahoo! News in Washington, D.C., where she served as an on-air social media analyst. In 2012, she was part of the team producing live streams of election coverage for Yahoo!/ABC. Connelly received her Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and Literature from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois.

Kenon says she’s excited to share her professional expertise with students, but feels the interaction is a two-way street.

“I love the energy that the students bring to this experimental class,” said Kenon. “It is the most refreshing part of my week to hear their stories and unique perspective.”

Danese Kenon

Kenon is the assistant managing editor of visuals at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette where she oversees the visual department. She is also responsible for creating training initiatives and opportunities throughout the newsroom as well as formulating community service and outreach. Before coming to Pittsburgh, Kenon worked as a multimedia photojournalist at The Indianapolis Star and a photojournalist at the Rochester Democrat Chronicle. In 2008, she taught multimedia journalism as an adjunct professor at the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute in Nashville, Tennessee. Kenon has a bachelor’s degree in English and mass communications from Virginia State University and a master’s degree in photography from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School.

Connelly and Kennon are the College’s fifth and sixth Innovators-In-Residence. In spring 2014, the College hosted Sarah Slobin, senior graphics editor at The Wall Street Journal, to develop a mobile-first storytelling project that examined the nationwide trend of ADHD drug abuse among college students. In fall 2014, Derek Willis, an interactive developer and data journalist at The New York Times, worked with investigative reporting and interactive design students on a data-driven elections reporting project. Just last semester, John Keefe, senior editor for data news at public radio station WNYC in New York, and Dave Mistich, digital editor and coordinator for West Virginia Public Broadcasting, helped lead an experiment using sensors to increase public engagement around contaminated water issues.

Read the official release at WVU Today.