How To Implement Immersive Journalism In Your Newsroom

12 November 2015

Jean Yves Chainon @OOArevo

It’s become increasingly clear for editors and news executives that immersive journalism will be an integral component of the media landscape in the near future. But how can newsrooms prepare and adapt this new medium from a practical perspective?

The good news is that newsrooms don’t necessarily need to hire new staff. However, 360 video and immersive journalism do require new skill sets and some formal training for shooting and video editing.

VR Group Study Tour

Besides new ways to frame the shot and tell the story, the bulk of the added workflow comes from post-production ‘stitching’: the typical 360-video camera mount consists of at least six individual GoPros whose video feeds must then be stitched together into a seamless frame.

Although the process is now largely automated through algorithms and software such as Kolor or Videostitch, the resulting image typically requires a number of tweaks which, at this point in time, still need to be performed manually. Another challenge comes from ‘ghosting’, in reference to objects disappearing as they get too close to the cameras.

HTC Vive guy with VR set

“I try to advise no less than five feet,” said Chadwick Turner, Head of Content Partnerships at the US-based immersive video platform Vrideo. “Cameras will eventually auto-stitch,” he said. This is the case, for example, with the upcoming Ricoh Theta S (to be released in October), which promises to provide a high-resolution picture that will stitch on the fly – however image quality and resolution are still below par compared to GoPros or even better cameras.

Once stitching issues are resolved for the layman through software, stereoscopic video will constitute the next barrier to entry into immersive journalism – but the skill sets required here are currently even more specialised.

“Is 3D better? If it’s done right, absolutely,” said Turner. But it can also be a nightmare. “Work with monoscopic first.”

Nonny de la Pena

Here’s a list of five seemingly obvious tips for 360 video and immersive journalism, with advice from VR experts and specialists:

1) “Don’t make your audience throw up,” said Nonny de la Peña, CEO of Emblematic Group, and one of the pioneers of immersive journalism.

While the effect may not be noticeable on a handheld mobile device, any shake in the camera (or any unexpected acceleration or movement that was neither caused nor anticipated by the user) will cause motion sickness when using a VR headset.

2) Be immersive. Another seemingly obvious point, but videographers’ first reflex may be to use the 360 field of view just like they would their traditional camera. Instead, immersive video can be a lot more powerful if the camera is used and conceived as the viewer’s head (which it is, in practice, when viewing through a headset).

3) Perspective is powerful. Along the same lines as the previous point - but even more so - take into consideration that immersive videos causes greater empathy because viewers can be made to feel like the person they embody. They identify with the subject a lot more than they would in traditional video.

4) Think ahead of focal points and cues. The strength of immersive journalism comes from the user’s increased agency, ie. the viewer can choose to watch whichever angle of a scene they please. This also means that viewers should be enticed, or cued, to focus on particular parts of the scene at key moments. This can be done through overlays, audio cues, as well as by giving the viewer extra time to focus on a scene.

5) Finally, remember to tell a story. Partly due to the novelty of the medium, it can be tempting for content creators to prefer form over content for 360 videos, and these can certainly lend themselves well to that purpose. But journalists need keep in mind that immersive journalism should be used to augment - not deter - good storytelling.

And perhaps this is what’s most exciting in these nascent stages of VR and immersive journalism, or at least before they become massively adopted: make the medium yours! Now is the best time to experiment with new storytelling techniques in order to help build conventions and greater literacy.

Girl with VR headgear

For newsrooms and editors interested in receiving more in-depth training on 360 videos and immersive journalism, there are a few players specialising in 360 video, such as UK-based Immersiv.ly or US-based video platform Vrideo, who purport to train journalists and content creators alike.

“We just want to educate the community on how to do this,” explained Turner. “We want to teach people best practices” in an effort to spur massive adoption of VR and immersive videos, and encourage this new generation of storytellers.

See also:

A Roundup of the VR Market - by Jean-Yves Chainon

People queuing to try VR sets

Questions, comments or for more information on this article, contact Karen Burke, GEN Director of Communications, via kburke@globaleditorsnetwork.org