Friday, November 21, 2014

CJR: "Virtual reality is journalism’s next frontier"

From the Columbia Journalism Review's 'Behind the News' blog:

Why newsrooms need to consider telling stories in a different way 
Virtual reality is ascendant, and it’s time for media outlets to take notice. Why? Consumer access to VR devices is about to take off thanks to ambitious prototypes from Oculus Rift and, in the past year, several major projects have redefined immersion journalism.

In September, The Des Moines Register released Harvest of Change, a detailed tour of one family farm in Iowa. In January, Nonny de la Peña and the USC School of Cinematic Arts debuted Project Syria at the World Economic Forum. Project Syria is a full-body experience that places viewers at the scene of a bombing, then allows them to explore a refugee camp. And October’s round of Knight Prototype Fund grants included support for a blockbuster collaboration collaboration between The Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, Frontline, and Secret Location, an interactive digital agency. These organizations are working together to produce a documentary work focused on the Ebola crisis and will share best practices and strategies for producing virtual reality-augmented journalism once they’ve finished.

These new forms of journalism are ambitious documentary enterprises, comprising many team members, cross-organizational partnerships, and potentially shocking prices to those familiar with prose journalism budgets. (Harvest of Change was produced for under $50,000.) But this work is also providing valuable, vital public services with remarkable emotional punch. Full-body journalism is a remarkable tool for encouraging empathy through what de la Peña calls “presence.”

“It’s a pretty wild thing, she says. “I’ve put thousands of people through these things now and have had extraordinary reactions.” Project Syria was recently exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London for five days. According to de la Peña, the exhibit was unadvertised and garnered more than 50 pages of guest book comments from visitors who donned the headset.

Wide consumer adoption of virtual reality is now the horizon. Oculus Rift, the crowdfunded VR headset that was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion in cash and stock, recently released Development Kit 2 at a price point of $350. That smaller up-front investment makes it easier than ever for developers to test virtual reality projects. The company is also taking steps towards hardware that is readily available to consumers, offering a sneak peek of the Crescent Bay prototype in September. In short, it’s time to start strategizing.

“Our reporters go to places where few venture or get inside,” says Raney Aronson-Rath, deputy executive producer at Frontline. “I’ve long held a curiosity about how we might take our viewers with us in a more visceral way, so that they can feel what it’s like to actually be there.”...MORE 

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