Why Immersive Journalism And Why Now?

Why Immersive Journalism And Why Now?
April 10, 2017

Ever thought how it would feel like being a witness of the actual news – to be present inside the story?


This is entirely possible with the arrival of immersive technologies. Journalism started from sharing the news on the center of the square to print media to radio and video reporting.


Each one of the medium channel offered new, additional layer of information. With the latest arrival of immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) there’s another rich data layer on top – the presence.


With print media, the readers had to imagine the scene in their heads. With video reporting they were able to see more details about world events. But with the frequency of breaking news and natural disasters that are happening all around the world even video reporting start losing its power.


The viewers had become desensitized.


Nonny de La Peña used the power of virtual reality to add another element to immersive journalism – she placed you inside the actual piece as an observer. In Virtual reality you feel like you’re there and you’re not separated by the flat tv screen.


You’re one of the witnesses on the scene.


De la Peña introduced her first creation at Sundance in 2012. She had a rough time creating the experience. Even though she was under-funded and didn’t know much about technologies she made the piece “Hunger in Los Angeles”.


The feature created strong emotional response of the participant. Since then she is known as the grandmother of VR.

Nonny de la Peña receiving an award at the Knight Foundation’s 2016 Innovation Award at a multi-panel event hosted by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.


Not only that, her work started a snowball effect. It changed careers of other journalism professionals, Dan Pacheco, lead program director of VR journalism at Syracuse said: ”I was completely floored by that experience (almost literally — I remember sitting down after taking off the goggles), and it changed the way that I think about what we do in journalism.”


To create scene in VR you have two options. Re-create it using a computer generated software (CGi), or shoot the real live environment. With first technique the task is daunting, slow and requires a lot of technical aptitude and experience. De La Peña had to rely on digital recreations, because in early 2010s there weren’t any spherical cameras that allowed for capturing 360 degree footage.


Today, there are consumer-ready and professional 360˚ cameras that storytellers can use.


Using the live recordings taken with spherical cameras, the production of the VR content is faster and easier, however it still requires standard editing and stitching. The output is a 360˚ video which is published on YouTube, Facebook or the publisher’s own player which support 360 degree format.


But what if you want to have more freedom in constructing a story in the virtual reality? What if you want to give viewers of your piece some sort of control and interaction opportunities. This was next to impossible to achieve without hiring an outside expert help who could hard-code and integrate these interactive options into the story.


360 Journalism is already being practiced and published media publishers with a large budget. New York Times introduced virtual reality through their app NYTVR to their subscribers in 2015. Together with a digital story, they distributed 1.2 million virtual reality viewers. With the acquisition of RYOT – the LA based VR and 360 Video Studio, Huffington Post soon followed. Then Time introduced their own VR platform. In 2017, CNN announced their arrival as well.

These well funded news giants are on the forefront of delivering impactful stories, but with simple tools, so can their news publishers.


It’s much different with smaller news publishers where the lack of budget and manpower prevents VR experiments. There just isn’t enough manpower to go out there, shoot the footage, edit it and publish it in a reasonable time.


The Seattle-based startup Viar360 developed a publishing platform that lets any storyteller use the opportunity to come up with a interactive story that has impact, interactivity and unique narrative. Using the simplified 4-step workflow any storyteller can turn a passive 360˚ video into a amazing cinematic virtual reality story.


And if you’re one of the news providers why wouldn’t jump on it right now?


The price of the consumer ready VR cameras are decreasing. Spherical cameras are getting smaller and cheaper. You can get a decent one in the $200 to $800 (USD) range. All of the new arrivals also have the auto-stitching features. This means no more hassling with the post-production. The 360 News you shoot on the field are publish ready in the same day with minimal post production.


The technology is already here, the tools are accessible and the entry point barrier is getting lower every day.  

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