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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.

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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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