Virtual reality is going to change journalism world

Journalism student Tillana Desai tests out a VR headset that will be emerging into the journalism industry. (Noman Sattar)

Noman Sattar
News Reporter

There’s a new way for journalists to tell a story.

Using 360-degree virtual reality immerses news junkies into a story rather than just reading about or being told what’s happening.

Humber School of Media Studies is exploring using the relatively new medium of 360-degree virtual reality as a new avenue in storytelling, said David Neumann, a program coordinator at Humber College’s School of Media Studies.

It’s a technique only a few news outlets, including the New York Times, are using to tell expansive visual stories.
Neumann said the new medium of virtual reality storytelling is challenging and exciting as it gives feeling and reality to the story.

“If you could just put on a virtual reality headset, you will be in the middle of a war zone,” Neumann said.

“For example, there was a picture of lifeless child’s body on the water from the Syrian refugee migration. It was just an image, but imagine if you see it while standing at the beach and look down at a child, that is the thing virtual reality is, it can be very real,” he said.

Neumann said virtual reality gives a significant impact to the story, which he described as the experience of being immersed within the context of the story.

“I think we are still in the early stages, but definitely 360-degree virtual reality is emerging in journalism,” he said.

Humber is taking initiatives to train students in new technologies and is working with the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa to provide students the newest technology in virtual reality.

“In Canada, we are losing tradesmen, plumbers and carpenters, we have to use virtual reality to train people quickly,” said David Chandross, a PhD in Higher Education and Humber’s visiting academic in residence who is applying virtual reality in teaching.

The Barrett Centre For Technology Innovation (CTI) is a 93,000-square foot building that is expected to be completed for fall 2018 at Humber’s North campus. It will be an industry-focused, technology-driven, and an innovative space to meet the growing demand for technology-driven solutions.

Humber is using the technology in education and skill development, where students are developing augmented reality applications by building virtual reality games and experiences. They have designed a virtual reality mobile application that allows campus visitors to take a virtual tour of the college.

“Right now, there is a need for exploring innovation in manufacturing. It means that in future, the augmented reality and virtual reality will be used in fixing equipment in the field, and to diagnose things even without touching it,” Neumann said.

“Now we are building the skill sets, and we are finding other applications of how do we use this in journalism, how do we make it use in nursing, and in manufacturing,” Neumann said.

“That building will be the hub for exploring and using the tools that we have in our School of Media Studies to start manufacturing processes with our people in different schools at Humber,” he said.

Brainstorming sessions on how technology could be used to “experience the election” gathered Humber students and faculty members at one platform to explore how journalism and technology can merge to deliver a unique provincial election experience to voters.

“We are brainstorming how technology could support the election, and exploring new avenues,” Neumann said. “We are in the early stages, but we are at a very exciting point where we have started building up the actual pure skills sets, and now we will see the application of that.”

Virtual reality and 360-degree news are emerging in journalism at a fast pace, but lack of content denies viewers from experiencing the technology.

News industry needs to work at managing the user expectation of virtual reality and to show early adopters the importance of engagement with the new medium of storytelling.

Neumann said virtual reality give viewers another way to explore storytelling and that Humber believes its key strength in teaching is picking emerging and innovative ways to convey a story that makes a big impact on the viewer.

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