Published on August 28th, 2019 | by Emergent Enterprise0
Journalism Needs Help — and Mixed Reality is Coming to the Rescue
Like other media, the “Fourth Estate” is striving to attract, engage and retain an audience. This post by Kenny Kline at VentureBeat shares how immersive media is providing alternatives to traditional and static text and images journalism. Do people want to do more than just read a story? How does video fit into the the media offerings? There is no one answer but media outlets will need to offer a variety of platforms for content consumption to create recurring customers who become brand advocates.
Photo: The New York Times in augmented reality
Traditional print journalism is dying, fast. According to statistics published by Pew Research, hundreds of daily newspapers have been scratched off the national roster since the 1970s, and about a third of the United States’ largest papers have suffered layoffs since 2017. The industry is struggling to stay alive. We have short attention spans and closed wallets; readers would prefer to find their headlines on Facebook or The Skimm, rather than their local newspaper stand — if one still exists at all. Consumers today want news and entertainment that’s worth stopping an endless Twitter scroll for — news that’s interesting enough to make them, well, interested.
But what if we could bring the engagement of entertainment and the immersion of VR gaming with the value and information of traditional news reporting? Imagine that rather than skimming over an article on immigration reform, you could stand with the reporters at the border, see what they see, and experience the story firsthand.
Would having a chance to live through the story be enough make them want to stay until the end? Could adding some of the best aspects of video games revitalize interest in the news?
Immersive journalism: A new hope?
Immersive journalism — the practice of using augmented or virtual reality technologies to create an experiential news story — might sound like a sci-fi gimmick, but the idea has been a constant in the sector for decades. The first reported use of such practices occurred in 1997, when a team of students at Columbia University’s Center for New Media used an omnidirectional camera to create a 360° video of the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization’s protest at their exclusion from the 1997 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York.
Since then, the specialty has evolved to create poignant, affecting, and immersive news stories. In 2012, the first immersive documentary, Nonny de la Peña’s Hunger in Los Angeles, debuted at Sundance to critical acclaim. The film, which centered on the desperate lack of food in some LA neighborhoods, was reportedly so effective in bringing viewers into the narrative that it moved some audience members to tears. As one writer for UploadVR reflects on the emotional impact of Peña’s portfolio, “Her pioneering work often transports viewers into uncomfortable situations – such as a line for food handouts outside a shelter in L.A., where you see a man collapsing from hunger next to you – and makes them rethink their outlook on often-controversial issues.”
These are emotionally impactful, engaging, and fascinating pieces — and as such, they have picked up traction in mainstay media. Today, Peña’s immersive journalism studio, Emblematic, has established partnerships with several major news sites and prominent organizations, including the New York Times, PBS Frontline, the Wall Street Journal, True Colors Fund, Planned Parenthood, and NOVA.
The immersive, first-person nature of VR-powered news makes every story feel real and important; it makes us want to tune into the news and think. The emotional connection immersive stories forge with their consumers may be the key to inspiring a resurgence of and widespread appreciation for journalistic storytelling. However, each story must be created with a first-person, player-like perspective in mind to achieve the necessary degree of emotional impact.
I was there; therefore, it is real and matters
As one can gather from the story referenced above, immersive journalism tends to do more than share information — it conveys a message. As avatars in the “game” of the reported narrative, news consumers are quite literally in a position to care about what they see. They can’t passively flick past text or distance themselves from printed statistics; the experiences they have can leave emotional echoes even when viewers pull off their headsets — that is, if the perspective of the narrative is oriented to make the viewer feel like an involved character.