AR and VR - Spatial Journalism the Future of Reporting

Published 11 November 2019, 21:33

Immersive media has the potential to disrupt the journalism landscape in profound new ways. \As immersive media increases in reach and functionality, 3D, AR, and VR platforms continue to further define how journalists will share their ideas. The most significant divergence from traditional media is the introduction of user-directed spatial dynamics, this will bring the concept of “spatial journalism” to the forefront of the industry.

What will spatial journalism be like?
It’s important to understand that this evolution of journalism is more than just using “cool holograms” to tell a story. Instead, it may use 3D imagery to immerse you, putting you in the cinematographer’s shoes. Imagine walking through a war zone, flying over 3D terrain maps, analyzing interactive data sets, standing next to Mick Jagger on stage, or bumping in a rover on Mars. Commercial television had a profound and revolutionary impact on culture and society, but it can’t give the viewer agency within an experience. With augmented and virtual reality technologies being advanced by the likes of Google, Apple, Facebook, and Snapchat, the capability to deliver users more intimate experiences will soon be at a critical point. 

Technological challenges and advancements
Today, creating these experiences takes time. There’s creative technical challenges and distribution limitations to consider. So most spatial journalism focuses around feature stories, such as the mission to Mars by The New York Times or  the rainforest fire from Time Magazine. These pieces can be considered learning and testing tools for their respective outlets, who have been advancing spatial journalism while pushing the limitations of the platforms at the time. They are using every new technological advancement to probe the users and judge interaction. 

Before 2017, these experiences could only be created within a specially downloadable app – a huge limitation on the spread of XR. Driving downloads is tough, and so is giving out a million Cardboards. Then the social media companies like Snap and Facebook (now Instagram as well) built AR platforms that could be piggybacked off of.

So in 2017, when The Economist ran its Future of Food article, it used Snapchat and Snap codes to showcase AR on a wide scale with no new app. In 2018, Apple released Quick Look, which allowed you to launch 3D objects in AR directly out of the browser. The Wall Street Journal followed with a “How To” on carving a turkey for Thanksgiving, but only for newer Apple phones. In each case, a new advancement was followed by an outlet experimenting within the new capabilities.

The technology behind these platforms is moving super fast though, allowing for high rates of widespread adoption. Outlets like The N.Y. Times are using webGL to put 3D experiences directly onto the mobile web. It won an Emmy for showing a destroyed Syrian rooftop — an example of both a time-sensitive story and cutting edge technology. 

What to watch for
There will also be democratization of spatial journalism. All of the media outlets mentioned are large international news sources. Using the old metaphor of Moore’s Law, we can see how this will get cheaper and faster, allowing regional sources and even straight clickbait to utilize these this new trend.

The technologies to watch for that will affect spatial journalism even further are 5G, the point cloud, and wearable devices. 5G will allow massive data loads to be dropped almost instantaneously onto devices. Imagine a journalist in the field taking live 360 imagery that a user can immerse themselves in – as if they are in the journalists’ spot.

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