Virtual reality pioneer Nonny de la Peña to receive Knight Innovation Award on Jan. 5 at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism

Press Release

December 15, 2016


NEW YORK – Dec. 15, 2016 – Virtual reality pioneer and entrepreneur Nonny de la Peña will receive the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s 2016 Innovation Award for helping to advance the field of journalism through her work with immersive media. Established by Knight Foundation in 2013, the award is hosted by the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School of Journalism and its Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism. The award will be presented on Jan. 5, 2017, at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

“Nonny de la Peña is the leading pioneer of virtual reality journalism for her groundbreaking use of 3-D storytelling to take us inside the worlds of the hungry in Los Angeles, refugees in Syria and gay teens in the American South,” said Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism. “Her work has inspired a generation of visual journalists to experiment with and master an emerging technology, and begin to unlock its potential.”

“Nothing compares to that visceral sense of presence that VR can bring,” said de la Peña. I want people to feel a deep understanding of the story, to be informed global citizens. Knowledge drives decisions it is at the heart of democracy. And most importantly, it informs action.”

De la Peña will receive $25,000 as part of the Knight Innovation Award presentation on Jan. 5 – and announce a journalistic innovator of her choice, who will receive a second $25,000 award from Knight. She will be interviewed about her work by Paola Antonelli, Museum of Modern Art senior design curator and director of research and development.

“De la Peña’s projects bridge journalism, art and technology,” said Tow-Knight Center Director Jeff Jarvis. “At its best, her work leads viewers not only to watch but to notice and empathize with its subjects.”

The award ceremony at CUNY will begin with a panel discussion on the need for empathetic journalism, the science behind it, and keys to making it work. The panel will feature Jarvis, “Notes on Blindness VR” Executive Producer Amaury La Burthe, and StoryUP Founder Sarah Hill. Syracuse University’s Dan Pacheco and CUNY Graduate School of Journalism’s Bob Sacha will discuss how photographers and 2-D videographers can develop the skills and approaches they need to succeed in 3-D media. During the day, award attendees will also be able to experience works by La Burthe, de la Peña and Darren Emerson, director and producer of the virtual reality documentaries “Invisible” and “Witness 360: 7/7.” Seating for the event and reception is limited and those wishing to attend must preregister.

De la Peña is the founder and CEO of Emblematic Group, an industry leader in using the latest technologies to immerse audiences in powerful stories. She has directed and produced multimedia content in collaboration with leading organizations including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Google, BBC, CBS, Sony, Universal and the World Economic Forum.

In 2012, de la Peña debuted the immersive story “Hunger in Los Angeles,” the first virtual reality film at the Sundance Film Festival. Her most recent VR documentary, “Out of Exile: Daniel’s Story” – which tells the story of an LGBTQ youth attacked by his family – has been selected to be part of the Sundance’ Festival’s 2017 New Frontier Program.

This is the fourth annual Knight Innovation Award. The 2015 recipient was science educator Neil deGrasse Tyson. In 2014, the award went to Shane Smith, CEO of VICE Media, who joined with Knight to endow an international media training program hosted at CUNY. The 2013 recipient was Sue Gardner, then head of the Wikimedia Foundation.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit

About the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism
The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism opened in 2006 with a commitment to blend traditional journalistic values with new forms of storytelling that embrace digital technology. Its innovative curriculum offers multimedia-focused Master of Arts degrees in journalism, entrepreneurial journalism, and social journalism in the heart of the nation¹s media capital. It also offers a one-semester Advanced Certificate in Entrepreneurial Journalism and a summer intensive digital journalism workshop series focused on emerging skill sets. For more, visit


Anusha Alikhan, director of communications, Knight Foundation, 305-908-2646, [email protected]

Hal Straus, general manager, Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism, 202-415-9458, [email protected]