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Will VR transform storytelling?

Virtual Reality (VR) is slowly moving into our daily lives. What was once an exciting new technology which sounded like something out of a science fiction movie is already being used heavily in certain industries. Military is using VR for training simulation, real estate agencies are building virtual reality tours and it’s also making an impact in the world of journalism, says Dejan Gajsek from VIAR360.

Journalists’ goals are to communicate stories to the viewer. A journalist needs to convey the story in an objective fashion and deliver the message with an effect.

Initially the reports were created through the written word and photos before moving into the broadcast realm. With the world wide web TV lost a good chunk of audience with news on-demand. Now another leap forward has been made thanks to virtual reality.

The impact the immersive environment has for the viewer is undeniable. The New York Times raised awareness with their first piece of virtual reality storytelling – The Displaced. This tells the story of three child refugees who were forced to flee their homes because of war.

The story was filmed using 360˚ cameras which record the whole surrounding. The New York Times then distributed 1.2 million Google Cardboards – cheap and low-tech cardboard structure with two plastic lenses – to their subscribers. The readers put their smartphone into the back of these cardboard and pushed play on the smartphone NYT app to be transported inside the Displaced story.

Through this the New York Times introduced a new approach to storytelling – immersive journalism.

360 journalism, also known as immersive storytelling, has had a large impact on media houses such as the New York Times, Huffington Post, The Guardian, Time and more recently CNN. Each one of these heavy hitters have their own VR production team and in-house solutions for creating, delivering and publishing 360˚ news.

Although these stories are getting a lot of attention and making an impact they are hard to produce and distribute. And what about other smaller media providers who would like to deliver engaging immersive stories?

Luckily, there are ways to leverage software which lets you tell the story using narrative and then distribute them online. Instead of developing an application you can use a VR publishing platform which makes it easy to use live footage, connect it together in a storyboard and publish it online either on the website itself or on social media channels.

This type of immersive journalism has already been adopted by journalistic schools internationally. 360˚ storytelling forms a part of the curriculum in Newhouse School at Syracuse University, Michigan State Journalism School, School of Journalism at University of Missouri and many others.

So is this going to change how news is viewed and delivered? It may or it may not. Virtual reality still has a way to go if we think about distribution. While 360˚ videos can be viewed on every device, the best way to consume is with a virtual headset. These headset range from cheap $10 cardboard viewers to expensive $500 and more gaming-oriented head-mounted displays like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. At some point, there may be a virtual reality headset in every household and in every pocket.

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