Why VR Journalism Will Change Everything


What happens when the sphere that shapes our understanding of the world, is in turn altered by VR technology?

by Lilit Markosian

Every intro to journalism class begins in the same way. A professor stands before fresh-faced students and proceeds to explain that journalism is an unquestionably imperative profession. As a reporter, one enters into the ranks of an invaluable tradition that not only has arisen out of necessity, but harbors at its very core the noblest pursuit of man━that is, the search for truth. Indeed, there can be no questions concerning the importance of honest reporting. But what happens when the very sphere that shapes our understanding of the world, is in turn altered by advances in technology? How will our perception of the world change as journalism embraces virtual reality?

On this blog we explore how virtual reality (VR)continues to seep into the many aspects of our lives. Moreover, it becomes increasingly clear that VR is here to stay, and far more flexible than most imagined it could be at the rocky start. Since VR has already made its way into gaming, entertainment and media, journalism is just the natural next step for the relatively novel technology. Perhaps what is most intriguing about the potential of VR in journalism, is the fact that it is bound to not only change the way in which we learn about current events, but probably also the way that we react to current events. At least, that is what many reporters hope it will do.

In April of this year, Nepal was hit with a tragic earthquake that took the lives of thousands. The aftermath was no less grisly, and to call attention to the disaster a VR project was launched called the The Nepal Quake Project. In brief, the endeavor is a VR film narrated by Susan Sarandon, that places viewers at the heart of the aftermath of the earthquake. On the project website, the creators claim that their goal is to bring the catastrophe before the eyes of the world in a very real way. As media coverage of the event dies down, aid workers are desperate for ways to keep people involved, and this film “aims to drive viewers to take action and support direct relief on the ground”.

The Nepal Quake Project is just one example of VR journalism that works to not only provide information, but supply it in a way that will encourage the viewer to take action. We all know how easy it is to hear a terrible piece of news and simply write it off. Political change, war, and natural disaster all lose their power when you watch them unfold from the safety and comfort of your couch. But what happens when you experience these horrors in full 360 immersion? If all of your senses are awakened to a horrific scene and you suddenly find yourself in the shoes of a true victim, then your reactions are bound to intensify as well.

Another example of VR journalism is an app called Ferguson Firsthand, available in the Google Playstore. This app allows the viewer to see the events that surrounded the death of teenaged Michael Brown at the hands of an officer, Darren Wilson, in Ferguson, Missouri. This tragedy was the spark to widespread protests and has drawn the attention of the nation, and the world, to racial prejudice in the United States. Ferguson Firsthand does not show any graphic violence, but it does take the viewer through the principal details of the scene, and creators hope that it will “give the public the opportunity to visit that scene, review the evidence for themselves and reach their own conclusions.”

With the development of VR video, anyone can relive events, or experience them remotely as they happen. Essentially, VR reporting could give the entire world the chance to be a witness, and later a judge, to controversial events like that of Ferguson. This kind of involvement is a monumental change in history. And if it pans out, then it may bring the world closer together, reinvent the way which we discover those sought after “truths”, and completely redefine the work of reporters━all hopefully for the better.