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J-School Students and Industry Vets Tackle the Tough Questions

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

J-School Students and Industry Vets Tackle the Tough Questions

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Q: Immersive experience-based devices like the Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard headsets are getting a lot of buzz. Should newspapers embrace these technologies as a way to explore deeper storytelling and (hopefully) attract more readers, or are they just a passing fad?

A: in an age where reporters are constantly being told print journalism is dying, it's tempting to pursue every new technology as a platform for storytelling. As products like Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard enter the market, virtual reality (VR) holds the promise of engaging readers with news in a way that demands their attention.

While words have the potential to create intense emotional responses, few articles will incite such visceral reactions. VR directly implicates the viewer, instantaneously mobilizing empathy and a sense of responsibility. Ideally, immersive journalism would mean a world of news consumers who do more than just consume--these virtual experiences would incite viewers to become active participants in politics, activism and human rights. As such, this medium could serve as an effective supplement to hard-hitting stories.

However, the possibility VR has to create a world that feels hyper-real may have the opposite effect. Though it allows you to physically inhabit a space and watch news unfold firsthand, there is a barrier created by the animation required to create these virtual spheres. The video-game feel of immersive journalism may instead serve to trivialize news.

Further, VR leaves little room for a writer to exercise the storytelling techniques fundamental to journalism. And, logistically speaking, creating just one of these VR experiences requires many people spending many months on a single project. The availability of this medium is equally concerning: The high price point of these VR products means only a certain class of people will have access to them.

Though the marriage of VR and journalism may have its appeal, it doesn't seem viable on a massive level. While I hesitate to call it a passing fad, I struggle to see how it might impact journalism in a meaningful way.

Marie Solis, 21

senior, Vassar College

(Poughkeepsie, N.Y.)

Solis is an English major with a correlate in Hispanic studies. …

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