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The media today: The rise of virtual reality journalism

October 4, 2017
Image: AP

The future is now with VR journalism. Some of the best and brightest in journalism are using virtual reality to plunge audiences into the midst of stories.

In 2016, The Washington Post created an augmented reality story for its coverage of the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore, bringing readers from the car chase to Gray’s death. This year, The New York Times created a series in 360 video called “Life on Mars,” chronicling the lives of NASA astronauts living in Mars-like conditions on Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano.

There are also more entertaining examples. NBC News hosted a series of virtual sit-downs with science icons such as Bill Nye where participants watching the show in VR could ask questions and comment in real time using emojis. Virtually Dating, the world’s first VR reality show, is being produced by Facebook and Condé Nast. Slate used Facebook’s Spaces to host a “hilarious disaster” of a VR talk show.

The new technology, according to a new study from the Associated Press, is a huge opportunity for journalists to engage audiences. But it’s a big departure from how we’re used to telling stories, from lede to kicker. As report authors Francesco Marconi and Taylor Nakagawa write for CJR, “As the technology powering 3D models gets more advanced, journalists will be able to develop multiple storylines in a single environment. Audiences will no longer be guided in a linear progression, but will be able to choose different story paths as they freely explore the virtual space—a ‘choose your own adventure’ version of journalism.”

“For example, a VR rendition of a protest on raising the minimum wage could allow a participant to choose to follow those marching in favor, or decide to stand with those against reform.”

If it means people pay attention to stories, then I, for one, welcome our VR overlords.

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More on social platforms and journalism:

  • We’ve talked about VR being used in journalism, but what about journalism in VR? From the CJR archives, Taylor Owen profiles a virtual newspaper inside the world of Second Life, the Second Life Herald. 
  • Zeynep Tufekci takes on Mark Zuckerberg’s equivocation of Facebook’s misinformation problems with a “marketplace of ideas” in the Times. “Both sides are upset about ideas and content they don’t like,” Zuckerberg wrote. Tufekci says being worried about fake news, targeted ads, and discrimination is not the same as being “upset about ideas.” 
  • The most recent puzzle pieces in Facebook’s involvement in the 2016 election: The Post reports that Russian ads “took a page from corporate America” on Facebook, while BuzzFeed points out: “The entirely routine use of Facebook by Trump’s campaign and others…is likely to have had far greater reach than Russian bots and fake news sites.”
  • In India, fake news is thriving. The Post reports that the consequences can be deadly. 
  • And while we’re on the fake-news beat, analysis from BuzzFeed shows how climate myths can go viral, even as they’re debunked.

Other notable stories

  • With big stories like the Vegas massacre, local reporters including those in Mesquite, Nevada, must “manage a sudden, jarring coexistence with the swarm of journalists that descends on their patch,” CJR reports. Also in CJR: A millennial-focused website showed bad form with its SEO-bait headline on the Vegas story.  
  • “I was diagnosed with PTSD after [an assignment in Haiti]. I had a harrowing time and, no exaggeration, that series of events changed the entire course of my life. … It also changed the way I do my job.” Read CJR’s dispatches from the journalism community for Mental Illness Awareness Week.
  • The bankruptcy estate of is putting the site up for sale. After the other sites under the Gawker Media umbrella were sold to Univision, is considered “a tough sell.” And Gawker alum John Cook, formerly the site’s executive editor, is leaving Gizmodo. “I could use some head-clearing,” he said. 
  • Journalists in Spain are calling state TV coverage of the Catalonian referendum “shameful,” demanding the resignation of its news director.


Nausicaa Renner is digital editor of CJR.