Virtual Reality: Going Beyond the Gimmick – How Journalists Can Stay Ahead of the Game – A Quick Look at a Recent White Paper

Last semester, for my VUB master in Journalism studies, I wrote a White Paper called Virtual Reality: Going Beyond the Gimmick – How Journalists Can Stay Ahead of the Game. I’m currently working on a master thesis about immersive storytelling, VR/360 and empathy, so the White Paper felt like a logical, first step in the VR-in-Journalism discovery direction.

This week, it’s been published on the Journalism Trends & Technologies Medium page. You can find my White Paper here.

Below is a summary of what you can find out from the paper,

but feel free to read the complete paper if the topic interests you!

Despite VR’s numerous shortcomings, stakeholders in the journalism field must keep their eyes on the VR market and be ready for its possible impact.

  1. If you need or want to get an overview of the current issues facing VR in the journalism sector, the content herein can help you do that. It will give you a brief view on the history of VR and take you through the pressing issues such as hardware, content, audience behavior and awareness and monetization challenges.
  2. If you are in the news industry, VR sceptic or not, we urge you to stay alert to the various technological trends and disruptions. This paper can help you do that.
  3. Though virtual reality might be the least of your newsroom worriesright now, knowing its current position in the media market will give you a competitive edge. This paper will suggest ways to stay open to VR.
  4. You will not get a detailed breakdown of the latest VR technology, content and statistical projections. With varied and inconsistent predictions coming from all sorts of directions, you would be better suited to set your Google alerts on “VR” to get up to date number crunching and tech development information, as needed. This paper will, however, give you indications about trends and prepare you for the VR vocabulary, going beyond just the notions.

 

Below is a quick view of what you should know!

What You Should Know about the Ongoing Challenges in VR

1. Clunky, costly, non-portable headsets have plagued the VR market. Recent announcements about soon-to-be released products are getting people excited as annoying cables disappear, prices drop as standalone versionsenter the market making mobile and desktops less necessary. The vast divide in quality and price will remain among cheap, cardboard viewers, mid-range ones and high-tech, high-cost headsets. All will offer different VR experiences though only some will provide truly immersive ones. Lack of speed and bandwith are also technical issues, among many others, that still pose problems for smooth VR use.

2. Content continues to be a problem for VR as there simply isn’t enough of it to go around to keep consumers coming back for more. The early adoptersand innovators are offering a continuous supply of compelling content, but not enough to drive, let alone sustain, the VR market. As the headsets get better and cheaper, the content must keep coming or none of it will matter.

3. Monetization models are unclear and profit seems far off in VR, especially due to the combination of high equipment and production costs. Dabbling in low-end, less quality 360° VR is a money-saving option, but many wonder why bother if it ultimately won’t keep users engaged due to its limitations.

4. Digital disruption, some say, is an ongoing hurdle for the news industryand a “new” medium such as VR will need time to find its place in the crowdedmobile-focused media market. Why bring in a new, visual medium, when many newsrooms are just finally figuring out how to pivot to video, how to create data journalism teams and graphics and how to handle social media?

5. Audience behavior on VR is hard to measure as there are limited dataavailable and too few user studies until now. VR has been mostly associated with gaming and gamers until now, who haven’t necessarily been considered a viable news audience yet. The news industry needs to get a better grasp on the potential of VR in the future as today’s young gamers might be tomorrow’s engaged citizens.

6. Storytelling methods need rewriting for VR. Not all stories are meant for the medium. A new narrative requires different framing, literally and figuratively. Design thinking and multidisciplinary teams might be necessary to create good VR experiences. This can be costly for newsrooms, with little return. The VR stories so far that people are talking about have mostly revolved around struggle and oppression. Some argue that we shouldn’t forget about VR’s entertainment value, which probably brings more profit possibilities with it.

7. Ethical questions arise with any new medium and newsrooms struggle to redefine codes and practices while maintaining standards such as truth, transparency and fairness. Virtual Reality offers a new format that changes the role and positioning of the journalist and user. With these new roles come new challenges.

And below you can see a summary of how to prepare for the future of VR in Journalism.

 

What You Need to Do to Prepare for Upcoming Opportunities in VR

1. The absolute minimum a newsroom should do is keep a close watch onhow its regional, national and global competitors are approaching the Virtual Reality market. What you don’t know, can hurt you, so make sure to know. Eventually, the news industry will have to come together and share knowledge on VR issues.

2. Good partnerships are often essential in VR creation and distribution. While looking at the competition’s relationship with VR, try to get an idea of whom they work with to make VR happen. Imagine if your news organization wanted to look further into VR production or publishing, consider with which partners you could possibly combine resources.

3. Speaking of collaborations, keep in mind that journalism schools are trying to get their heads around the future of VR as well. Working together with them on ideas and action in VR could lead to innovation and help you keep your finger on the pulse when it comes to VR.

4. For those who don’t really get VR, in order to understand VR, you have to try VR. Even if you can only get your hands on a cheap, cardboard VR viewer, it will be worth it. There is no sense in being a sceptic without doing a little experimenting with VR first. Go through the motions that your audience would. Get a feeling for VR before deciding it is not for you or your newsroom.

5. While you have that headset in hand, a next, easy step is to have a good look at what kind of VR content already exists in the media-related field, what kind of stories are being told through it and which approaches are and are not effective and appealing.

6. Now that you’ve experienced a little journalistic VR magic and VR trash, it’s a good moment to look beyond the journalism field and see how VR is being used elsewhere. Not only will such content be an eye opener, it might also inspire ideas for news coverage. Virtual Reality is spreading through many sectors and can be game-changing within certain fields. There are numerous stories there. Sharing them is a good way to create VR awareness and media literacy among your audience.

7. Get to know about your potential VR audience. Who are they and what expectations do they have? VR might not take off for a while, but try to figure out who will be using it and how when it does. Turn to existing and upcoming VR user research or conduct your own. Not all VR users are news consumers yet but they will be. Be ready for them.

Thanks for reading! Find the complete paper here  if you want to know more!

by Sarah Markewich – SIVAR project intern spring 2018