GEN Summit 2015 Day 1 - The Future of Journalism : VR Technologies

18 June 2015


Gabriel Mabille is a student at the EFJ School of Journalism in Levallois-Perret, France, and the GEN Summit 2015 blogger in Barcelona. Read his experience of the first day of the GEN Summit:

This is it! The GEN summit 2015 has officially opened. The city of Barcelona is hosting, for another year, the reunion of global managing editors, journalists, IT companies and searchers. These are just a few examples of the diversity of profiles of men and women from across the world who are attending the GEN Summit. They will give keynotes speeches, lectures or master classes between 17-19 June.  The event is taking place inside the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, just few metres away from the Museo de Arte Contemporàneo de Barcelona (MACBA).
The first presentation – ‘Wearable news beyond the gadgets’, moderated by Romain Gallo, CEO of Gallo Multimedia, was a fantastic opening for the GEN Summit 2015. The discussions were centered on revolutionary connected devices (wearable technology like watches, smartphones or even virtual reality headsets). The discussions offered an insight on the latest trends of multimedia platforms that are changing our daily life and which will shape tomorrow’snewsrooms.
The crowd in the Sala Teatre within the CCCB centre was dense, even if the room was not totally packed. A lot of discussions took place before the start of the event in the hallways where people took refuge from the scorching heat of Barcelona in the light, airconditioned atmosphere of the centre.
Robert Hernandez, Assistant Professor at University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and an Online News Association board member was the first to speak on stage. He held the crowd’s attention with his fascinating projects and his sense of of humour.
Robert Hernandez demonstrated that the evolution of technology is changing our society. He mentionned that "91% of all Americans have their cellphone within reach 24 hours a day, 7 days a week". Wearable technology is a global phenomenon. It is incorporated into our daily lives. It has already changed journalism, as Mr. Hernandez emphasied with pictures uploaded on social networks by people who were at the Boston Marathon and who were therefore the first to ‘cover’ the tragedy of the tragic bombing in 2013.
GEN is about the future of news and media innovators. The three partcipitants of today’s keynote’s speech in the Sala Teatre are worthy representative of this motto. Robert Hernandez revealed his latest projects and recent activities later on. He is teaching a class on Google glass journalism. He created with his students an application called ‘Glass Genius’ that managed  to get information to the users about the Ebola virus through the Google lens at a time when there was so much misinformation on the disease. He is using augmented reality journalism in his classes with a project which recreated 3D versions of rare book collections of the los Angeles Public Library through the application ‘ARchive LAPL’. Mr. Hernandez told the audience to pay attention to the work of ‘Magic Leap’ in the following years. This company which is working on augmented reality has been financed recently by Google. On stage, Mr. Hernadez demonstrated the use of the Google cardboard which modifies your phone into a very cheap and affordable version of the Oculus Rift. Mr Hernadez’s other interesting example of innovation was a system that allow a 500 words message to be read rapidly, one word at a time. It is made possible through the application ‘Spritz’.
The three participants expressed the importance of seizing the opportunity that technology and connected devices have to offer to newsrooms across the world.
Louis Jebb, founder and Chief executive of Immersively was the second to speak. His London-based company sells and produces contents in virtual reality. They were able to produce a short 360° degrees video documentary about the Honk-Kong Unrest. The motivation of Immersively deals with the concept used by Mr. Jebb of ‘media less mediated’. The final decision is for the users. They are the one engaged in the process of virtual reality. The space created for them is their property. They are the one who are taking decisions in their choices and interactions in virtual reality. For Mr Jebb, virtual reality is not ‘a gimmick. It is a serious platform for journalism’. Augmented and virtual reality could be two domains that would gather the younger generations as they will be using these technologies on gaming consoles. Young readers might be reached through this device. Mr Jebb hopes ‘that the younger generation will find a way into news’ and journalism with VR newsrooms. According to him ‘VR news is a serious platform’ and there is an urge to adapt to it. With VR, Mr. Jebb wants ‘to make people care about news’.
David Sancha, managing director of Xalok, talked about the latest trends concerning the smart watches. He presentend a whole new world of possibilities with media applications. The market of connected watches will expand quite rapidly, according to Mr. Sancha’s figures he used in his presentation. He mentionned, for example, the impressive recent numbers of the pre-orders on lauch day: 972 000 units of the Apple watch! Efforts are being made in smart watches to improve lisibility with the ‘San Francisco typography’, for instance.
‘Glance journalism’ was also one of the key aspect of the future trends of the profession covered by our three guests during their presentation. ‘Contents created and distributed to be consumed as a small piece of information in smartwatch screens’ will be the type of information consumed and read in the near future. These contents, in order to be efficient and attractive for the readers, will have to be ‘clear, concise, personal, include tracking location, follow the users’s behaviour and saving preferences’.
But, for the three speakers, ‘content must always be king’. Technology is nothing if - behind - there is not a viable press project and powerful editorial visions.
The second session of the day in Sala Teatre, after a coffee break, was focussed on similar themes. In the presentation entitled ‘VR journalism and immersive storytelling’, Nonny De La Pena, Emblematic Group CEO and USC School of Cinematic Arts Annenberg fellow, presented her numerous projects on virtual reality. She revealed the opportunities offered by this media to create brand new formats and contents to get users – potential readers or news consumers – re-enacting and interacting with real-life events. Her most impressive works were the creation of a video where, with a lens device on your head, you live the experience of witnesses during a brutal police intervention that cost the life of Anastasio Rojas, another project recreated a bombing in Syria, the premises of the tragic death of Trayvon  Martin, or the detention conditions in Guantanamo. An intense process of research and gathering pieces of information like the authentic audio recordings of these real life situations give the users a sense of authenticity and credibility. This type of interraction is really appreciated by the users. It offers fantastic opportunities for news companies.
Mel Slater, Director of the Event Lab at the University of Barcelona, presented the results of his research and his works on virtual reality and their effects on the users. The use of videos during his presentation was really useful to get a better vision of the various possibilites offered by virtual reality and its consequences on a personal approach about perceptions, interpretations or the reaction to violence for the man or woman behind the headsets.
Both of them presented another fascinating projectwith robotics. Doing an interview through the eyes of a robot thanks to a camera and an audio device at a place where the journalist might not be able to go. It could be the next revolution to reach conflicts zones.
VR can definitely be the future of news. The prevision given by Mrs. De la Pena are really impressive : ‘By 2018, 25 million headsets’ will be on the market.
Get ready to grab your lenses and headsets ! VR is going to be the future of news. The opening day of the GEN Summit closed on these fantastic revelations about virtual reality technology and its benefits for newsroom and media companies with visionary and ambitious projects across the globe.
Other events took place on the first day of the GEN Summit. They were scheduled at the same time than the previous presentations in Sala Teatre but they were set in the Auditorium of the CCCB. (‘From Bitcoins to bitnews : towards the one-cent article’ with Kelly Leach, Duco Van Lanschot, Claire Wachter, Nikolay Malyarov and Toni Piqué – ‘Media innovation in China : the latest trends’ with Ji Tao, Ying Chan, David Schlesinger and Joyce Barnathan.)
The evening was dedicated to the first social event of the GEN Summit 2015. A finger buffet was organised at the Hospital de Sant Pau, near Sagrada Famiglia. So, for me, the first day of GEN was full of exciting news about the future of journalism, innovation and creative projects!