360 Degrees — The Future of Journalism

One of the best views in the natural habitat park.

The Sandbox News explores Virtual Reality journalism thanks to a partnership with the Innovation Lab at St. Petersburg College Seminole campus.

The St. Petersburg College Sandbox News has built a reputation for innovation, and as their fifth anniversary approaches, the paper is not resting on its laurels. Thanks to a partnership with the campus Innovation Lab, the newspaper was able to use a Ricoh Theta S 360 camera and the lab’s software and expertise in editing 360 degree video to produce an Earth Day story that is out of this world!

Sandbox adviser and Seminole campus communications instructor Kathy Bryson walked the Theta S through the campus’s natural habitat park, providing a look at one of the most beautiful spots on any St. Petersburg College campus. Environmental science instructor Maura Scanlon provided a voice over for the video, and Sandbox News photographer Chris Demmons edited the video.

The Theta S is an affordable option for the 360 degree video, ringing in at under $400, and is simple to use. The camera is a candy bar shaped device with ultra-wide f 2.0 lenses on both sides. The camera is really two cameras, running in tandem, and then the resulting video is stitched together by special software produced by Ricoh on a smart phone, tablet, or PC. Once stitching is complete, the video can be edited in any video editor. After that the video requires special metadata, added by a program made by Google, to take advantage of the 3D video features on YouTube or Facebook.

Virtual reality is not just tech fad of the moment, or 1990s cyberpunk nostalgia given form with the technology of the aughts. VR gives audiences a sense of immersion that is lost in traditional video. It provides an opportunity to see everything there is to see at the scene, not just where the camera happens to be pointed.

Another advantage to 360 degree video over other VR technologies is that these videos require little in the way of equipment to view. While you can use an Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear, or HTC Vive to view them, you can also use the vastly less expensive Google Cardboard with your smartphone. In YouTube from your browser, you can use the on-screen directional pad to rotate the camera.

The Ricoh Theta S was purchased with a generous $7,500 Curiosity Creates grant from Disney and Association for Library Service for Children to support creativity programming, like the Innovation Lab’s Maker Boot Camp. The Maker Boot Camp gives school aged children the opportunity to discover, explore, and work hands-on with the latest in emerging technologies.