Virtual Reality and 360-Degree Videos Taking News to a New Level

VIRTUAL REALITY STORYTELLING

From The Wall Street Journal to The New York Times and The Associated Press, news organizations are using new technology to tell otherwise traditional stories in dramatically different ways. As recently as a couple weeks ago, a national morning news show used 360-degree virtual reality to take its viewers on an African safari – live on the air. In a first for network television, Good Morning America’s Amy Robach broadcast from Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater – using drone-mounted cameras and IM360’s 360-degree virtual reality cameras, allowing its audience to “experience some of nature’s wildest, most dangerous predators up close” in real time.

Similarly, CNN made history last October when it partnered with NextVR to live-stream the Democratic presidential debate in virtual reality from Las Vegas. Viewers required a Samsung phone and an accompanying virtual reality headset to participate, but the treatment is always limited to such devices. In many cases, you can control the experience from your desktop. You go from simply reading or watching the story to living it on the frontlines with the reporter.

“It immerses viewers in the middle of the action, breaking physical and economic barriers by enabling them to travel into different environments and explore new realities,” The Associated Press says on its new virtual reality channel’s webpage. Last month, the global news network announced a partnership with California-based AMD to deliver “rich news experiences by combining its reporting depth and global reach” with image rendering and graphic technology.

“Each new publishing technology reinvents how we experience news, and VR promises the next revolution by immersing us deep in a story,” said Paul Cheung, AP’s director of interactive and digital news production in a press release issued Wednesday, February 17. “With AMD’s collaboration, AP will leverage their expertise so that we can enhance and strengthen the VR news experience.”

“We’re excited to bring this realism to audiences everywhere, letting them connect with global issues and news in an unprecedented format, bringing emotion and understanding to the human condition,” said Raja Koduri, senior vice president and chief architect, Radeon Technologies Group at AMD.

National outlets aren’t the only media embracing virtual reality; the emerging technology also appeals to local news publications. As early as September 2014, The Des Moines Register offered a “first-of-its-kind explanatory journalism project,” using virtual reality technology and 360-degree video in a five-part series about “sweeping demographic and economic changes in America” affecting Iowa farm families.

Early into 2016, it seems virtual reality is fast becoming a reality for many newsrooms. When it allows you to travel to far-off places around the world or offers you a front-row seat at a political debate, virtual reality provides a new perspective on major news events because you see it through your own lens. If it’s not headed there now, it’s easy to see how virtual reality and 360-degree video may be the next frontier in news and perhaps go mainstream.

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Wes Benter is a senior online community services specialist at ProfNet, a service that connects journalists with expert sources. He previously worked as a creative producer for PR Newswire’s MultiVu. Prior to that, Wes worked on-air as a reporter and weather anchor for network affiliates in the Midwest. Learn more by following him on Twitter @WBenter.

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