Virtual reality brings a new perspective for news consumers

Google Cardboard is used to view a virtual reality mobile app

Google Cardboard is used to view a virtual reality mobile app. (Photo by Alexis Macklin)

Virtual reality is the newest playground for journalists, and the technology is changing the way communities interact with news.

Newsrooms across the country are releasing virtual reality projects that engage with an audience in a completely different way than other multimedia storytelling techniques used before. The Des Moines Register’s “Harvest of Change” is an extensive reporting project that includes work from video game developers and animators, editor Amalie Nash said.

The newspaper invested in different ways to bring their Oculus-based project to the public, she said. The newspaper created a two-dimensional version on its website and held events to bring the project to the community.

“People are amazed at how realistic it is and how you almost have a physical reaction with your body,” Nash said.

The news organization wanted its first project to be more than just a visually compelling piece, she said. The newspaper wanted to make sure the story had purpose in the community. “Harvest of Change”  follows four family farms in Iowa as they face changes in demographics, technology, the economy and the environment.

“The story itself really resonated with readers,” Nash said. “We really wanted a rich journalistic experience.”

Virtual reality is an immersive visual experience where the viewer has a first-person perspective and can interact with the media. The experience of virtual reality is more than watching a story unfold. The viewer is made to feel like part of the experience as they uncover the story firsthand.

In the case of “Harvest of Change,” the viewer is invited to learn about the struggles of modern farming by exploring the Dammann family farm and their story. Viewers can interact with a model of the farm to find videos telling the story of the Dammanns.

CEO of Emblematic Group, and commonly called the pioneer of virtual reality, Nonny de la Peña said virtual reality’s potential goes beyond traditional storytelling tools.

“One of the most amazing things about virtual reality is that it allows people to feel like they are on scene, they are a witness to actual events as they transpire,” she said. “That kind of feeling means that you can connect to the story, that you can have a closer sense of empathy with the characters in the story compared to traditional media.”

Virtual reality is not always a completely immersive and interactive experience. Newsrooms like The New York Times and The Des Moines Register are producing 360-degree video to give their readers a different storytelling experience.

This will not be the only future of virtual reality. De la Peña said virtual reality projects will range from mobile experiences to livingroom immersion experiences using headsets like Morpheus, which work with with Playstations, to complete interactive experiences at large theaters.

The mobile application of virtual reality is where most readers will be investing their time, entrepreneurial interactive developer John Shannon Perkins said.

“Mobile is always with you and it’s always there. It is really simple,” Perkins said.

This is why he argues that Google Cardboard will be the smarter system to invest in. More readers can invest in the lightweight and inexpensive device.

“When I watch people with Google Cardboard, there is something so casual about holding something with your hand that is lightweight,” Perkins said. “I notice that people don’t lose that connection to that social space that they are in.”

Although headsets are expensive and not widespread amongst consumers, virtual reality will be a game changer for many different forms of sharing knowledge, even beyond journalism, Perkins said.

“Go all in because it is as important as mobile and the Internet,” he said.



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