Innovation & Solutions

From augmented reality to new revenue models, the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media is at the forefront of exploring innovation and providing solutions to established and emerging media organizations.

Reese News Lab and its Chief Innovation Officer Steven King develop technological tools that help both journalists and sales departments. These include AI bots and “robot journalists,” drone photogrammetry and virtual reality storytelling.

America’s media organizations are in an age of disruption, and revolutionary new technologies are forcing those in the news industry to radically recreate their business models in order to survive and thrive in this new digital age. The News Desert Project, led by Knight Chair Penny Muse Abernathy, not only documents the loss of news, but also researches potential innovations and solutions that can help local news organizations develop sustainable digital business models.

Reese News Lab

Steven King headshot
Steven King

The Reese News Lab works to create novel and immersive storytelling experiences that engage audiences by leveraging new technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality with unique, research-based perspectives. Students and faculty use new technologies and human-centered design concepts to solve challenging problems for media companies.

Steven King serves as the Lab's Chief Innovation Officer, and Alexis Barnes is its Creative Content Producer.

Alexis Barnes

Projects are rooted in scientific and consumer/audience research and leverage collaborations with subject-matter experts across the university, as well as multiple industry leaders like Time Magazine and The Washington Post as well as local journalism publishers. Many of these projects are created under Reese News Lab's Emerging Technologies Lab venture. Reese News Lab's Innovation Fellows work directly with local journalism publications to create sustainable innovations that reach local audiences.


Virtual and Augmented Reality

Immersive storytelling engages audiences in memorable and impactful ways. Not only does the Lab create AR and VR content for publishers and corporate clients,  but in the process also invents the new tools and innovations needed to create the content— such as new and faster ways to create 3D models, new location-based augmented reality experiences and best practices on creating fully immersive content on the latest VR headsets.

Watch a video about the making of an immersive Time Magazine app Steven King and his team developed with the SeeBoundless company. The app takes viewers inside the heart of the Amazon Rain forest, rapidly vanishing due to climate change and deforestation.



Data, AI and Robots 

Today's data-fueled world creates interesting problems and unique possibilities for the media industry. Advancements in artificial intelligence can help audiences gain new knowledge, journalists tell in-depth stories, and media executives make better-informed decisions.

AI Journalist

The Lab developed this AI bot with the Star-News, a newspaper in Wilmington, North Carolina, to provide responsive answers about the local community to readers. The AI bot trained on thousands of newspaper reader questions and hundreds of journalists’ responses from the newspaper’s “My Reporter” section. Then, the bot indexed local and national media sites and information services to provide the answers. 

Media Advisor

Partnering with Kenan-Flagler Business School, the Lab developed Media Advisor, which provides data science tools, including machine learning, to help media executives make better decisions and better engage with customers. Media Advisor also has tools to help journalists discover stories in large data sets.  

Robot Journalist

RoboJ is a semi-autonomous rover that captures smooth 360-degree video content. The rover can be controlled remotely or can follow an on-camera reporter. The prototype was presented during the opening keynote at the Journalism Interactive Conference and presented at the Online News Association Conference in 2016. A fourth generation of the robot is in development with Segway Robotics. This partnership will enable a more affordable robot for journalists across the industry and will be available in 2020.


Drone Photogrammetry

The Lab's large, custom-built hexacopter captures smooth 360-degree aerial video content for news organizations and film productions using a custom commissioned gimbal. The New York Times is a partner on the project and will be the first to use the drone in an upcoming international project.  

VR Storytelling

Endurance VR engages students in the immersive story of Ernest Shackleton's failed 1914 endeavor to cross Antarctica to teach leadership in stressful and changing situations. Using interactive 3D graphics, artificial intelligence and immersive storytelling, students experience stress in a virtual but realistic world with seemingly infinite outcomes.

The project is part of the Kenan-Flagler Next program and is being produced in collaboration with the North Carolina School for the Arts. Endurance VR will be the flagship experience for KF Next.

Steven King and his team were recently in the news for lending their talents to a virtual reality Time Magazine app that lets viewers see inside the heart of the Amazon Rain forest, which is vanishing at a rapid rate due to climate change and deforestation.

King and his team at the UNC Emerging Technologies Lab partnered with the SeeBoundless company to create the imagery, using hundreds of drone images shot by SeeBoundless to produce large-scale 3D models through photogrammetry software. The ET-Lab then added storytelling elements such as info boxes to the model.

Here’s just a few of the ET-Lab’s other AR and VR projects:

Gear Up: The UNC System collaborated with King's team and the SeeBoundless company to produce the Gear Up app. The virtual reality app allows students to remotely tour the system’s 17 colleges across North Carolina without ever leaving their homes—and at an affordable cost. The app utilizes the operator’s cell phone and an inexpensive cardboard headset, one more way King and the team at Reese News Lab are making technology useful, accessible and innovative.

The 2050 Project: King’s team developed 3D modeling of a well-known Raleigh library and a London temporary housing facility for Quartz’s 2050 Project, which examines innovative urban architecture around the world. By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to live in cities, according to Quartz.


Shedding Light on Science Stories: King will also lend his virtual reality expertise to a 5-year $2.86 million grant project recently awarded to Morehead Planetarium & Science Center by the National Science Foundation. The Morehead Planetarium project, entitled “Hidden No More: Shedding Light on Science Stories in the Shadows” will illuminate both the scientific concepts of light as well as the diverse scientists behind the field. Through animated films, virtual reality and other immersive experiences, the program will tell the stories of female scientists as well as scientists of color. King will advise on the project's virtual and augmented reality experiences.

The Strategic Digital Entrepreneur

The Strategic Digital Media Entrepreneur book examines how the media industry is facing epic upheaval. Revolutionary new technologies compel those in businesses as diverse as broadcasting to book publishing to radically recreate their business models or be left in history’s wake. At the same time, those with the next big idea are eager to acquire the business know-how needed to make it in today’s brave new world of media.


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