Also requiring a hands-on approach was the setup for interviews. The shots of interviewees include a semi-circular dolly shot but with no suitable dolly track available in New Zealand, the team had to make their own from electrical pipe.
For $36 they were able to fashion a track from pipe cut with a hacksaw and fastened with string.
The interviews also got the same visual treatment as the rest of the production, with big industrial spaces used to allow for wide shots, close-ups and for normal talking head interview to be elevated into something much more cinematic.
“From my point of view as a visually creative person you always hope you’re going to get the opportunity to do something where you can go out on a limb and be brave and bold in what you’re doing,” Longbottom says.
“We always try with the visuals to match the quality of the journalism and Paula and Eugene set the quality of the journalism so high we had quite the job to match it with our visuals but we try to and hopefully we have.”
Upon hearing this, Penfold was quick to add it goes the other way too because when there’s such a beautiful job done creatively, the journalistic game needs to be lifted.
Former defence minister Wayne Mapp.
Having started her career at Radio New Zealand, Penfold could never have foreseen she would be producing journalism that’s told through a VR experience but now she’s so excited by the prospect of being able to deliver it to people in ways they want to consume it.
She describes seeing the investigation brought to life in that way was a really fulfilling and satisfying moment after hundreds of hours of work and stress, but more important to her are the feelings of those to whom the story matters. She explains she’s in journalism to ask the questions that need to be asked and to receive feedback that they’ve achieved just that is really rewarding.
“When you get that feedback from soldiers who were there on the ground on the day thanking us for doing this work and asking those questions, it’s a very validating thing to achieve.”
A new form of journalism
But it’s not only validating to the Stuff Circuit team, as it’s a positive result for the practice of journalism as a whole. With the mediascape undergoing seismic shifts, serious investigative journalism has come under threat as media companies are forced into the downward spiral for clicks. However, when pieces like The Valley and the Black Hands podcast are released, it proves there are still who people want to engage with serious long-form journalism.
The Black Hands podcast, also by Stuff, is a 10-part series about the Bain family murders narrated by Martin van Beynen. He’s been following the case for years and after publishing a number of columns expressing his belief that David Bain is guilty and does not deserve compensation, he decided to write a book.
However, when the publisher dropped the book deal, the idea to turn the 100,000 written words into a podcast was sparked. 10 scripts were written for each episode and the efforts of van Beynen and the team is paying off, as the podcast reached 1.1 million downloads in nine days following its July release. It also made number one in New Zealand and Australia and number two in the UK. It’s now reached 2.4 million episode downloads worldwide.
Significant numbers like that are evidence of Penfold’s belief that there’s a growing awareness among the public that they have to consume journalism or they will lose it.
“There was a serious risk of that only 18 months-two years ago when programmes were being axed all over the place and I think it was a bit of an awakening,” she says.
It’s a risk Penfold, Bingham and Longbottom have experienced firsthand as MediaWorks’ axed 3D Investigates in 2015. At the time, its head of news Mark Jennings said: “Long-form current affairs is challenging to make commercially viable all over the world. Given the way media consumption habits are changing, unfortunately continuing 3D may not be possible.”
But Penfold doesn’t quite see it that way as she thinks people who want a functioning democracy want some serious challenging journalism and “as a part of that so they are lapping it up” and she’s really encouraged to see that.
However, that’s not to say journalists don’t have a role to play in ensuring their practice remains alive—they too have a responsibility to respond to changing times to otherwise it will stagnate. Both Penfold and Longbottom have recognised that and credit Farifax for enabling them to move it forward.
A clear example of this in The Valley—aside from the VR and interactive website—is the fact all six online episodes were released in one lot. It’s a reflection of how people now expect to consume content in one chunk rather than being drip-fed and already the team’s had feedback from people who sat down to watch one and found themselves watching it all.
“So we have to respond to that as journalists or else we would die,” Longbottom says.