- USA Today announced a podcast called "The City" whose 10 episodes use augmented reality (AR) technology to tell the true story of how a garbage company with mob ties built an illegal dump in a predominantly black neighborhood in the 1990s, according to a press release. The narrated AR experience includes 3D animation, archived photos and sound to immerse listeners in Chicago's North Lawndale area as the dump grows to the size of 13 football fields.
- Listeners can hear undercover audio tapes from an FBI investigation that were withheld from the public until USA Today parent company Gannett won their release in court earlier this year. The podcast's immersive episodes explore how illegal dumping and other forms of environmental racism still plague Chicago and other cities.
- "The City" podcast won WNYC's 2015 Podcast Accelerator competition to fund the pilot. Award-winning journalist Robin Amer lead the podcast's team of investigative journalists and public radio staff.
USA Today's new podcast demonstrates how news organizations are integrating the latest mobile technologies to illustrate ideas and immerse an audience in their storytelling. The first season of the podcast includes an AR demonstration in USA Today's iOS app that helps to show the massive size of the illegal dump. The podcast's home page also includes a 3D virtual model of the North Lawndale neighborhood that viewers can see with a web browser or a screenless virtual reality (VR) viewer that connects to a smartphone. The website also has a beta version to view with a VR headset and WebVR-compatible browser.
Similar to how marketers use AR to enhance brand storytelling, USA Today and other news companies are exploring how the mobile tech can enrich journalism by engaging audiences with computer-generated imagery alongside traditional methods of reporting. Apple and Google in the past few years have released software tools that help companies, including news organizations, create mobile AR experiences. The New York Times and The Washington Post this year included AR features in their coverage of the Winter Olympics.
The publication has worked to incorporate fresh mobile tech into its platforms in recent years. USA Today in July added AR features to its mobile app to showcase U.S. space exploration and rocket launches from Florida's Kennedy Space Center. In the past year, it's boosted efforts to make its app more useful for users, including adding a personalized news feed and tailored alerts. Its "My Topics" feature lets readers create a customized headline feed and an option for automatic push notifications when the publication runs new stories about a user's selected topics.