Is Virtual Reality Journalism Here To Stay?

17 September 2015

Jean Yves Chainon @OOArevo

This week saw the launch of a groundbreaking journalism project that uses virtual reality to cover the war in Syria. VR technology is improving at breakneck speed - in just a few months, new cameras will be available on the market that will make the VR filming process all the more easy and accessible for people to use.

GEN interviewed Digital Journalism Professor, Robert Hernandez, at the new media centre based at USC Annenberg's School for Communication and Journalism to get his perspective on what the future holds for VR journalism.

“My specialty is digital journalism and emerging technologies and that means I look at wearables, augmented reality and virtual reality,” said Professor Robert Hernandez, who is currently teaching a class dedicated to virtual reality.

Robert Hernandez

USC Annenberg Digital Professor Robert Hernandez

“We’re coming together to figure our what types of VR experiences journalism can offer,” he said.  “We decided to focus on VR because it’s inevitable.”

Why now?

“VR journalism is coming fast,” Hernandez explained. “We need storytellers – journalistic storytellers – on emerging technologies and to try to adjust them for our needs.”

One of the first student assignments is to make their own VR production by creating a virtual tour of USC Annenberg’s facilities.

“At this school we’re looking at different ways to disrupt the journalism industry,” Hernandez added. “I don’t know what we’re going to produce: that’s the excitement of this class, and that’s very much like the real world.”

This pioneering spirit is echoed by his students.

“I just really wanted a place to innovate,” said Fernando Hurtado, one of the students in the VR class. “I thought it was great because it hadn’t really been shaped yet so that means our class could potentially define some ground rules for how you do VR journalism.”

“If you look at the narrative of technology, the adoption rate is through the roof,” said Hernandez, mentioning the plethora of VR headsets that are currently available, or about to be released, including the Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive and Sony Morpheus.

USC Annenberg

USC Annenberg Newsroom

USC Annenberg’s new building and journalism programme are designed to teach “from the ground up how to produce cutting edge, modern digital journalists that can produce video, audio, text, and coding,” said Hernandez. “And one of the latest things that we’re having them do is Virtual Reality.”