All posts by Musings by Shoshana B

Media and Communication student at Wollongong University.

VIRTUAL REALITY JOURNALISM – PART TWO.

Following from the last post regarding Virtual Reality Journalism, comes the second installment aimed at delving further into research and purpose of the proposed DA (Digital Artefact).

The first post in this series outlined a proposal for creating a Digital Artefact focused towards VR Journalism. As with any creation or research piece, it is imperative to establish foundational understanding of the topic and determine a well-defined argument. The purpose of this post (part two), is to explore the objectives for undergoing the DA and highlight integral research concerning the practice and implementation of Virtual Reality Journalism.

Aforementioned in Post One, Virtual Reality Journalism combines the experiences of Virtual Reality and journalistic endeavours to produce immersive simulations of the stories being portrayed.  Utilising the ability to simulate reality and create near real experiences, the journalism industry has began to implement this medium when tackling stories of war (Project Syria), homelessness in Los Angeles and historical events such as the United States Inauguration.

Following, is research, articles & industry opinion outlining the implementation of VR Journalism for mainstream consumption.

THE NITTY GRITTY – RESEARCH. 

ETHICAL DELIBERATIONS

Journalism in any form is underpinned by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), which is a global code of ethics for journalistic practice. Detailed explicitly are four areas in which journalists must adhere when reporting. These are:

  • Honesty
  • Fairness
  • Independence
  • Respect for the rights of others

However, there is yet to be a section under the MEAA regarding VR Journalism. VR Journalism, whilst simply an extension of rudimentary journalism, opens up an entirely new set of ethical implications which must be explored.

Poverty Porn.

Understood as the exploitation of disadvantaged, poor or war ravaged groups by the media for purposes of entertainment, gaining sympathy or generating sales. Virtual Reality Journalism, as documented by Project Syria and Hunger in LA, is predominately used to show people of privilege other’s in vulnerable circumstances such as war and poverty. The very nature of VRJ is to trigger an emotional response, which intern proliferates the concerns of Poverty Porn. Dialogue must happen as to the ethical implications of the stories being portrayed by VR Journalism.

Fake News.

Misinformation, an increasing dilemma for journalists, could be exacerbated by the advanced mainstream use of VR Journalism. An ethical implication to the practice of VRJ is those who have access to making stories. Without a Code of Ethics or journalistic law, consumers are the helm of decifering fake news from real. Detailed on Media Shift (mediashift.org), was VRJ creators Emblematic Group’s dilema when creating Greenland Melting. Emblematic used a hologram of Eric Rignot, to host the story. Eric Rignot never visited Greenland for the piece, however was imposed in the icey environment wearing a warm jacket. This, although seemingly harmless, compromises the ethical integrity of the story as it is not entirely truthful to consumers.

Image: Greenland Melting (Emblematic Group) 

 

Recently, a video using AI tools, circulated of a fake Obama speaking to a camera. The video was to highlight the technology available to model exact behaviour of a person. With regards to VRJ, this technology is availble to manipulate and misinform the public of news and world happenings.

Behavioural Manipulation.

The very purpose of VR is to elicit an emotional response from a created ‘near real’ environment. Human behaviour is determined by one’s immediate environment. When VR is immersive and mirroring a real environment, so then is the response of the person experiecing it. However, “unlike physical environments, virtual environments can be modified quickly and easily with the goal of influencing behaviour” (Madary and Metzinger, 2016). When experiencing immersive interactions of situations such as war, the ethical question must be considered as to what is too much for a subject to experience when consuming a news story? Research my Micheal Madary and Thomas K. Metzinger, raises the concern for VR induced PTSD as the human mind is easily maluable. Plasticity of the mind is strongy linked to environmental triggers, and as the research suggests, effective VR has the capabilty to ellicit negative responses in the brain.

The questions begs: How far is too far when it comes to Virtual Reality Journalism?

FROM RESEARCH COMES PRACTICE – OBJECTIVES. 

The aim of the DA is create a news story using the practices of VR. Below itemises the specific objectives of the DA . Note, the objectives will again, in more detial, be expressed in the third installment of the DA proposal (presentation).

Objective One.

The first objective of the DA is to highlight the argument that VR Journalism has the capabilty to create a further sense of empathy towards stories being told. When immersed in stories via virtual reality, Nonny de la Pena argues that “telling tough, real life stories creates deep empthay”.  Shown in Pena’s 2015 TedTalk, are the responses of those experiencing her VR story, Hunger in LA. When a man collapses from hunger in the simuated environment, the person experiencing the event via VR technology, has a visoral response.

 

Image result for nonny de la pena hunger in los angeles
Image: Hunger in LA. 

 

Chris Milk, in his 2015 TedTalk, states that, from experiences he has had in making VR Journalism, it has the capabiltiy to “connect humans to other humans in a profound way, that I have never seen before”. 

 

Related image
Image: Chris Milk TedTalk 2015. 

Objective Two.

The second objective of the DA is to express the power Virtual Reality Journalism gives the consumer. When creating a story through VA or 360 degree visions, such as with many stories by The New York Times, the user has agency over how they experience and perceive the content. Displaying full environments, untouched by curation or story-telling, the user is able to experience the situation for what it is. When used ethically, VR Journalism has the capability to eliminate bias, as footage is raw and explorable by consumers, and thus giving consumers agency of their perception of news stories.

Image result for NYtimes vr
Image: NYTVR: The Displaced. 

 

VIRTUAL REALITY JOURNALISM – Digital Artefact.

We are surrounded by other’s stories

Stories told to us through cinema, the written word and recounted by those around us.

From the moment we check our devices –  our Instagram, our Twitter and our countless other news feeds, we are inundated with stories of other’s.

Throughout centuries of storytelling, one thing has remained consistent – our inability to completely experience what the story-teller is truly describing. Yes, we can imagine and emotionally immerse ourselves, but we are never able to truly grasp, in its entirety, the physical experience of those telling a story. There is an ever-present wall between the story-teller and the listener, constantly dividing you from someone else.

Story-tellers who feel the presence of the wall looming over each story they share, are journalists. No matter how wrenching the photo or how precise the writing, journalists are unable to rid the dividing roles of consumer and the other. Consumers of news stories are only afforded abilities to feel for, but never feel with those being represented in a story.

That is, however, until the inception of virtual reality journalism. Virtual reality journalism, still in its infancy in terms of form and usage, combines the experiences of VR with journalistic endeavours to produce immersive simulations of the stories being portrayed. Throughout the piece of research being proposed, it is my aim to investigate the practices of VR in mainstream news and the changes in journalism as a result of interactive story-telling. But first, it is important to understand the functions, origins and innovators of VR journalism and how it is being used at present.

WHAT IS IT – UNDERSTANDING VR JOURNALISM 

VIRTUAL REALITY.

In order to understand virtual reality journalism, one must first understand the function of virtual reality itself. Virtual reality is understood as being ‘near reality’, or as real as possible. The purpose of VR is to emulate the reality of human experience through technology. Reality of human experience encompasses how each of our functioning senses and perceptions work collectively to decode and encode our environment. VR aims to emulate environments through 3-D computer generation in order to stimulate human sensory perception – thus creating a near real experience. The experiences of VR are immersive, interactive and grounded in achieving realism to the highest degree.

JOURNALISM

Utilising the ability to simulate reality and create near real experiences, the journalism industry has begun using immersive interactive story-telling. Immersive journalism or Virtual Reality Journalism aims to create empathy rather than sympathy for the stories being told. Pioneer in VR journalism, Nonny de la Pena’s mission is to “tell tough, real life stories that create deep empathy for viewers – all through goggles”. VR Journalism has the capability to bridge the gap between consumers of news and the stories being told. Pena is creating interactive and immersive stories so that audiences are able to feel and stand amongst harrowing experiences which we only read about, but not live ourselves. Immersing people within the stories they consume, through VR, has the capability to lessen the construct of ‘us’ and ‘them’ creating less othering and divide.

HOW IS IT BEING UTILISED – PROJECT SYRIA.  

Project Syria, created by Nonny de la Pena, is an interactive experience of the war in Syrian that aims to go beyond reading about the experiences of other’s. This example of VR journalism is important as it highlights how immersive journalism works and why it is impactful. Project Syria, commissioned by the University of Southern California, used VR to implant audiences into the life as a citizen caught amongst the Syrian conflict. As a person reading about the harrowing events, killings and displaced people, your mind can only imagine so far. However, with VR, all our senses are stimulated which gives us an entirely new insight into the lives of people affected by war.

       Image: Motherboard. (2014). 

DIGITAL ARTEFACT – INTERACTIVE ESSAY.

            WHAT.

For my Digital Artefact, I am going to choose one news story I wish to report on and create an interactive and visual story using the practices involved in creating VR Journalism. As I am limited in the technology used to create VR, I am unable to make my own VR news story. However, I plan on using the principles of VR to create an immersive news story that utilises multiple senses in order to create an experience whilst consuming the news.

      HOW.

Aurasma, an augmented reality application is the program I plan on using to create an interactive news story with the principles of VR journalism. Aurasma uses technology to recognise images and develop them into holographic images. I will use this technology to develop an interactive visual news story for people to use.

Over the weeks leading up to the submission of my DA, I will create an online progress journal (blog) detailing the processes involved in making my own piece of interactive journalism.