2 min read

Contrast VR’s Zahra Rasool: Advocating for Diversity in Media Through Immersive Storytelling

In our fourth edition of The Rough Cut, where we meet with the leading innovators in digital video, Co-Founder Alex Ragir sits down with…
Zahra Rasool (Contrast VR) and Alex Ragir (Storyhunter) in Dumbo, Brooklyn.

In our fourth edition of The Rough Cut, where we meet with the leading innovators in digital video, Co-Founder Alex Ragir sits down with Zahra Rasool, Editorial Lead at Contrast VR — Al Jazeera’s global 360°/VR production operation. Since joining the team at it’s beginning stage, she’s built an entirely women-led team, from an array of backgrounds, who are pioneering 360° news and documentary.

There is a Gap Between the Technology and Storytellers

“One of the biggest challenges in this industry is that the storytellers and the the technologists work in silos. People who understand the tech, and how to use it to create immersive content, aren’t really working collaboratively with people who understand storytelling or were [they] actually good journalists.”

Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should

“Just because you have access to a conflict zone doesn’t mean you go there with a 360° camera and film the conflict zone, because there are a lot of political and cultural considerations that are part of the story and need to be explained. I always say, just because you can go there, doesn’t mean you should go there. The story is of the utmost importance.”

Representation is Key to Authentic and Accurate Journalism

“I don’t think you can cover other communities or minorities without actually having those people represented on your team. The kind of people that are on your team are reflective of the work that you put out. From the beginning, I knew that if we were going to do these stories, that we had to have people on the team that came from different parts of the world or with a different world view, and were not just white-men, which is what most of the American media industry is.”

Diversity in the Media Needs to Start from the Top

Advocates for Inclusion in Media was started by David [Yi] and Sarah Springer…Their mission is to create a community, so that people of color and minorities have access to resources, or can find other people to get advice. [They’re also] advocating for diversity not just in entry level positions in media organizations, but more importantly management. Real change will not come unless your management is diverse.”

“It has to start from the top. We need to see more diversity at top management level positions. The media industry is especially guilty of this. Very rarely are we seeing white managers hiring a diverse team, because we end up hiring people who are in your networks. In the most perfect world we’d be seeing white people advocating for diversity, but we’re not seeing that.”

Storytelling Trumps Technical Skills

“When I hire for my team, I don’t hire somebody who has experience in VR. I hire somebody who has good editorial judgment, who’s a strong storyteller — those skills in the field [with the camera] can be taught — their experiences, and their skill as a storyteller are something that take a while to cultivate. Your experiences can not be replicated.”

Previous episodes of The Rough Cut:

Courtney Coupe, VP of Content, Great Big Story

Stone Roberts, VP of Global Video Strategy, Refinery29

Jason Beauregard, Head of Studio, VaynerMedia

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By Jordan M. Rapaport, Storyhunter Writer