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 Innovation Project Manager.

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.

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

Ducille 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.  

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 of Reese News Lab's AR video game Adventure Squad that keeps hospitalized children active.

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. 

The Strategic Digital Media Entrepreneur 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.


Adventure Squad is an augmented reality app that leverages storytelling, gamification and augmented reality to engage pediatric hospital patients in physical activity. The app leads 8- to 13-year-old patients on a journey through their hospital floor to find clues and solve problems. Collaborating with UNC pediatrician and faculty member Dr. Richard Hobbs, M.D., the Lab designed the experience to improve patient outcomes and solve the problem of motivating long-term pediatric patients to exercise. The app won UNC's prestigious C. Felix Harvey Award in 2019.


Our Chatham is a student-staffed audience-driven news service featuring a newsletter and website and uses the Hearken audience engagement model to flip the traditional editorial process on its head. Whether reporting on a growing Hispanic population, water pollution of the controversy of a Confederate monument, Our Chatham asks readers what they want to know about instead of telling them. Through direct and intensive community engagement, Our Chatham allows student journalists to learn the methods of a growing form of journalism while providing investigative pieces for a booming North Carolina country underserved by media.

Led by MJ-school lecturer Eric Ferkenhoff, Our Chatham also hosts community events in Chatham County, such as a community gathering on economic disparity that drew more than 100 Our Chatham readers in May 2019.

Events such as the community gathering are one more method in creating a multifaceted approach to audience engagement.



Recent Innovation & Solutions

Reese News Lab Adventure Squad app in the news

UNC’s University Communications recently ran a story about UNC School of Media and Journalism Assistant Professor Steven King‘s “Adventure Squad” app, an augmented reality video game that keeps hospitalized pediatric patients mobile and empowered, allowing them to play an interactive “superhero”…

Reese News Lab initiative brings audience-driven news to Chatham County

How do you know what your audience wants? You ask them. Online, at community meetings or in the middle of a farmers’ market with a clipboard in your hand—that’s where Alexis Allston stood last summer in Chatham County, as she…

Welcome our 2019 Media Innovation Fellows

The Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media at the UNC School of Media and Journalism would like to welcome Reese News Lab’s Media Innovation Fellows for summer 2019. The fellows will work on projects ranging from augmented and virtual reality to…

Steven King wins UNC’s C. Felix Harvey Award for pediatric patient AR video game

UNC School of Media and Journalism Assistant Professor Steven King has been awarded the University’s prestigious C. Felix Harvey award for his work on “Adventure Squad,” an augmented reality video game that keeps hospitalized pediatric patients mobile and empowered, all while turning them into…

CISLM staff members add talents to Quartz’s 2050 Project

Steven King, assistant professor with the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media, based in the UNC School of Media and Journalism, developed 3D modeling of a well-known Raleigh building for Quartz’s 2050 Project. King, who teaches interactive and multimedia at the…

Modeling the future in 3D

Assistant Professor Steven King and his team recently took part in an exciting endeavor, creating a 3D model of London’s Hope Gardens, a temporary housing development built from shipping containers, for Quartz’s 2050 Project.   The 2050 Project is an exploration of creative solutions to the…