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Frontline in Focus

Conflict zone immersion through XR technology

Frontline in Focus uses extended reality (XR) and other storytelling tools to depict the impact of war on civilians, particularly children & families.
Journalists in conference room
Person presenting in conference room

Depicting the human side of war

Since 2012, visual journalist Khalil Ashawi has documented the ravages of war. He has reported on the ongoing, violent conflict in his native Syria, from where his own family was displaced during fighting in the eastern region.

While working for Reuters, Khalil was sometimes embedded with military personnel, capturing photos and videos from the frontlines. But seeing civilians impacted by war and conflict — particularly children — sparked a desire to tell a different kind of story. “Children are the biggest losers in this war,” Khalil says. “I wanted to focus on telling their stories and show the human side.”

In 2019, Khalil founded Frontline in Focus, an independent media agency that covers human interest stories in war and conflict zones. Based in Istanbul, Turkey, Khalil’s agency initially focused on the lives of Syrian families struggling to survive in war- and conflict-affected areas.

Khalil launched a YouTube channel and other social media to promote his agency’s work, marketing photos and videos to media outlets and nonprofits. As storytelling tools and technologies evolved, Khalil felt he could do even more to bring the harsh realities of life during wartime onto audiences’ screens.

Headshot of Khalil Ashawi
Partnering with the Google News Initiative has enabled us to do great things. We are now an independent media agency with three websites, bringing the humanitarian side of war to light.
Khalil Ashawi
Founder, Frontline in Focus XR

Using XR for immersive storytelling

Khalil wanted to use 3D photography, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and other extended reality (XR) technologies “to place the audience inside war and conflict zones.” In 2021, Khalil was named a Google News Initiative (GNI) Innovation Challenge recipient in support of his plans to develop immersive content.

He teamed up with journalist Hadeel Arja, founder of Tiny Hand — an independent digital media platform that uses visual storytelling to relate the stories of children in conflict zones. They trained 10 field journalists to use XR technologies to take photos and video footage, including drone footage, and to use those images for immersive storytelling.

In June 2022, they launched Frontline in Focus XR, bringing audiences inside streets, homes, schools, and places of worship ravaged by war.

Stories are told from survivors’ first-hand perspectives. Some are AR experiences, such as Jana and the room of her dreams, while others such as This is my home: A ruined school turned into a shelter may be viewed in 3D, with or without a VR headset.

The Frontline team also covers breaking news in the region. When massive earthquakes struck Turkey and Syria in February 2023, causing tens of thousands of deaths, the team was dispatched immediately, recording the devastation and rescue efforts.

Frontline in Focus
A little girl sewing her tent to protect her family from wind in a refugee camp in northern Syria, footage taken using virtual reality technology
photo
Journalist Hadeel Arja, founder of Tiny Hand
Frontline in Focus
A little girl sewing her tent to protect her family from wind in a refugee camp in northern Syria, footage taken using virtual reality technology
photo
Journalist Hadeel Arja, founder of Tiny Hand
3-12
Children in a refugee camp in northern Syria going to their tent school - footage taken using virtual reality technology
  • 500% rise in Twitter followers
  • 40% increase in revenue
  • 2.31K YouTube subscribers

Sharing stories of survival with a global audience

Since launching the new XR website and incorporating XR videos into their YouTube channel, Frontline has seen philanthropic, advertising, and licensing revenues increase by 40 percent and their social media presence grow across platforms, including a 500 percent increase in Twitter followers. They have expanded their list of media clients and nonprofit partners, including Save the Children, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), and UNICEF. They have also secured new funders, ensuring the initiative has a sustainable future.

In 2022, Frontline in Focus XR received a Global Start-up Agency of the Year award from UK-based agency Don’t Panic for innovative content.

Frontline in Focus plans to add stories and VR tours from other countries in conflict, including Yemen, Libya, and Ukraine. For Khalil, Hadeel, and team, XR is a means to create more powerful stories to share with wider audiences, so the children of war are not forgotten. “XR enables us to shed light on the real-life suffering inside conflict zones,” Khalil concludes.

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