Francesca Panetta is an industry leader in the word of immersive and experimental storytelling, exploring how emerging technologies can innovate new forms that have social impact.
She currently works as Creative Director in the MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality pioneering flagship projects.
Previous to MIT, she worked at the Guardian for over a decade exploring new forms of journalism as Special Projects editor, directing interactive features, location-based augmented reality. She led the in house virtual reality studio at the Guardian as special projects editor.
She works both as an inspirational leader and a practicing artist whose work is characterized as crafted and polished, bold and experimental, and of social relevance leading to the work winning awards around the world.
Starting her career as a trainee at the BBC then working at the Guardian for 13 years, Francesca has covered topics across the field from the clothing industry in Bangladesh to the prison system in the US. She covered the 2008 election (primaries and general election) in the United States.
Human interest stories are Francesca’s speciality. She has the ability to connect with all she interviews: listening carefully, gaining trust and pulling out the stories represents the worlds of her interviewees.
Harvard recognized Francesca as an exceptional journalist in 2018, awarding her a Nieman Fellowship.
As Executive editor, Francesca Panetta led the Guardian’s award-winning in-house Virtual Reality studio from 2016-2018 experimenting with what VR could look like for journalism. Striving to push the boundaries of non-fiction storytelling results the studio the result was an extraordinarily ambitious multi-award winning collection of VR experiences varying in scope and execution.
Some pieces were interactive, using modelled worlds and interactive film. They explore visual aesthetics from lidar scanning to film to illustration. Other works were linear 360 works. The team focused on first person narratives – placing the reader inside the story and exploring what the world looks like through someone else’s eyes.
In October 2017 the Guardian launched its Guardian VR app and sent 100,000 free Google Cardboard headsets away with its Saturday newspaper. In total over 4 million people online accessed the Guardian’s VR and 360 content.
From Google to MOMA, from the Lincoln Center to Cannes Lions, Francesca delivers keynotes, moderates panels and hosts workshops around the world.
She talks to journalists and editors about innovating in newsrooms, finding new formats for newspapers and broadcasters to find new audiences and experiment in what their output can look like.
At film and documentary festivals, Panetta talks about what the future for these forms can take and the practicalities of making them – from storyboarding, to work flow to fundraising.
For audio makers, Panetta hosts workshops and talks to discuss innovation in sound – from Audio AR, to Voice, to podcasting she has been asked to talk about the Future of Radio for over a decade.
Francesca Panetta is a multi-award winning radio producer and sound artist. She’s known for her richly layered through -composed sound work and experimental formats.
Francesca started her career as a trainee sound assistant at the BBC. Merging her classical music training with her love for feature making and technology focused her early career in experimental radio.
She moved from radio to podcasting when iPods had just been created in 2006 moving from the BBC to the Guardian to work as an audio producer launching shows on British Islamic Life, Politics and Culture. As Head of Audio she led the podcast team pushing the department to explore what audio could look like as the podcast form developed through the decade.
Alongside her Guardian work, she launched her own podcast the Hackney Podcast, drew a global audience and won awards around the world. Now she runs a production company with Lucy Greenwell focusing on Audio AR and radio art.
As Special Projects Editor at the Guardian, Francesca was tasked with experimenting in new forms of storytelling.
In 2013 she launched Firestorm, a Guardian interactive magazine piece which explored the onslaught and aftermath of a devastating brush fire in Tasmania. The team took a now-iconic photograph of the Holmes family huddling under a jetty as a starting point. Firestorm follows the Holmeses through their fight to survive, combining video, interactive graphics, ambient sound, and magazine-style copy into an interactive experience unified by downward scrolling.
As special projects editor she continued to direct projects such as the Shirt on Your Back an interactive documentary about the dangers of the global garment industry, Olympic Bodies profiling 31 of Britain’s 2012 Olympians, and an interactive and global guide to the First World War.
In 2014, she partnered the Guardian with the National Film Board of Canada to direct Seven Digital Deadly Sins.
In 2010, Francesca began to experiment with what technology could mean for audio with a series of Audio AR apps which triggered stories dependent on your location using GPS data.
Setting up Hackney Productions, she launched Hackney Hear in 2011which won awards around the world. Commissioned by the Arts Council of England, it portrayed a rapidly changing area of East London through oral history stories, interviews and commissioned poems, short stories and music layered and woven together over a square mile of London Fields and Broadway Market.
She then launched Phantom Production to make a series of Location based audio apps including Soho Stories, for the National Trust, Diamond Street, for writer Rachel Lichenstein set in the historic jewellery quarter of Hatton Gardens and Boardwalk Stories from Sandy, a walking tour ap produced by Panetta and Benjamen Walker and Francesca Panetta telling the stories of people who were affected by Superstorm Sandy.