The one thing all journalism students will hear at least once in their studies is something to the effect of, “journalism is dying.”
While it is true that some traditional forms of media are declining in use and popularity, journalism is not “dying” with them; it is simply evolving.
The increased use of the Internet, mobile devices, technology and social media (among other things) have led to the rapid rise of journalism’s latest evolution: 360-degree media and virtual reality reporting.
The use of VR reporting has gained recognition through recent use by national news organizations such as Associated Press with the AP360-degree channel and The New York Times with the NYT VR app. Meanwhile, 360-degree photos and videos have exploded in popularity since launching on Facebook.
Kate Nash, a communication and journalist instructor and editor of the New Mexico News Port, said the goal of these new media forms in increasing engagement.
“It’s all over (the place). We’ve sort of gone beyond using social media ... to using virtual reality and 360-degree images to immerse the audience,” she said. “There’s this shift in how the audience is engaged and connected with the content we’re producing.”
Use of VR and 360-degree technology is connecting users to media content, as well as to reporters producing the content, by having them experience the stories rather than just watching or reading about them.
“The more we can show people what we see as reporters, the better. There’s a new level of transparency if somebody can look around the same room that you are in ... and see the same people that you saw or the same things that you are seeing,” Nash said.
This new use of technology in the journalism industry has received a lot of attention from news consumers -- but the technology itself isn’t actually new.
Elan Colello, the Virtual Reality Cinema instructor in the Interdisciplinary Film and Digital Media program, said VR and 360-degree media have been around in films and video games for years.
What makes them so remarkable now is the shift they’ve brought to the industry.
“The reason why I think it’s so powerful for journalism is because it allows (people) to experience the truthfulness of a journalism story firsthand,” Colello said. “They’re not seeing what the journalist frames in the picture. They’re seeing everything as if they’re really there.”
Nash and Colello agreed that what makes immersive VR reporting so effective is the impact it has on news consumer.
People who experience what is going on with social, political, environmental and world situations firsthand through VR are more compelled to respond to those situations and get involved in them, Colello said.
For example, research from the Stanford Virtual Human Interactions Lab has shown people who have chopped a tree down via VR didn’t want to use non-recycled paper again for weeks, while those who watched a video about cutting down a tree didn’t want to use non-recycled paper again for mere hours, he said.
With these new media elements popping up in various facets of reporting and news, students and teachers alike are anticipating a need to learn these technologies in journalism classes.
Nash, who is on board with the different mediums available to journalists, said she thinks now is the time for students to pick up skills in working with 360-degree cameras and VR editing.
“A lot of journalism these days is trying new technology. I don’t know if 360-degree or VR is going to be here forever, but a lot of journalism is learning how to learn. Oftentimes, students who graduate are going to have to be the innovators in their newsroom,” Nash said. “If they have those skills coming out of class and graduating the program, I think it’s a tremendous advantage.”
Colello said he sees the growth of virtual reality -- for reporters and non-reporters alike -- as something our society has just barely begun to scratch the surface on.
“As (student) journalists, you’ve been turned on to this technology early on, while you’re still in school,” said Colello. “It’s a huge opportunity because you’re going to be the first generation coming out of school educated in virtual reality.”
Colello acknowledged there are people who think it is too soon to start incorporating these innovations into university curriculum when there is no guarantee of their long-term popularity.
However, he said he doesn’t see how things like 360-degree media will ever go away when the numbers show how much people are connecting with them.
People who interact with 360-degree videos have been shown to exhibit a 23 percent increase in brain recollection and a seven percent increase in learning rates, Colello said. He also said people watch them five times longer, four times more frequently and are twice as likely to share them compared to 2-D content.
“These numbers don’t come from a 'wow' factor. These numbers are coming from people finding a digital medium that they can really connect with,” he said.
If he is correct, these new media won’t be dying out anytime soon -- which means journalism students will need to learn how to use them.
The Daily Lobo attempted to contact the Department of Communication and Journalism curriculum committee about how VR and 360-degree media might be implemented in future degree programs. None of the members were available to comment.
Skylar Griego is a culture reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @TDLBooks.