Journalists face virtual reality

By Opinions Editor

Virtual reality once seemed like something out of a sci-fi movie, but 2016 could be the year personal virtual reality systems, like virtual reality headsets, are incorporated into daily life—and daily journalism.

The Oculus Rift virtual reality system—a headset device that hooks up to a PC and is designed for gaming—debuted for preorder for $599 at the Jan. 6 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and will ship to stores on March 28.
A number of virtual reality systems already exist, ranging from the inexpen- sive Google Cardboard, which requires users to put their phones in a cardboard box with eyeholes, to more deluxe models like Samsung’s Gear VR headset. The systems are not perfect, and there have been complaints that they cause motion sickness, headaches and double vision. These systems are already in use in a variety of fields. As reported Jan. 7 by CNN, a Miami doctor used the technology to simulate a surgery before successfully performing it on a five-month-old girl. 

This Super Bowl Sunday, viewers will be able to watch the Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl in virtual reality, accord- ing to a Jan. 7 USA Today article.

The Oculus Rift announcement, however, has sparked a national con- versation among tech experts and entrepreneurs about virtual reality and its potential growth in 2016.

Virtual reality may soon become main- stream, said New Enterprise Associates general partner Rick Yang in a Jan. 1 CNBC article. But, for news organiza- tions like The New York Times and Vice News, experiments have already begun.

On Nov. 8, 2015, The New York Times distributed a Google Cardboard device to its Sunday subscribers and launched a free smartphone app with exclusive content called NYT VR. The first virtual reality film from a war zone was created by journalist Christian Stephen about Aleppo, Syria, and was released Aug. 10, 2015, by RYOT News.

Virtual reality is not yet a realistic option for many news organizations because the equipment necessary is expensive, and there are no industry standards regarding how to operate it or publish virtual content.

Previously, journalists have been the interpreters of current events around the world. Virtual reality provides viewers the opportunity to experience these things for themselves—no outside interpretation necessary. This brings up the concern that virtual reality could make reporters obso- lete. The technological advancements have primarily concerned broadcast journalists.

Reporters should take advantage of the ability to immerse readers and consumers of news even further. Virtual reality isn’t a threat, but an opportunity for growth and more innovative reporting. Embracing virtual reality will allow reporters to transport their viewers through unprece- dented methods. Developments still need to be made, but the content already created by news organizations shows promise for combining journalism and virtual reality.