The weight of the story vs. the size of the headline
A story is a story is a story. And nobody’s seems to care anymore. Anyone can find the news anywhere, in print, on TV, on the radio, online. It isn’t even necessary to actively search for today’s headlines: they are all over Social Media channels, posted or shared or liked by other contacts. Stories about famine, poverty, war and all the tragedies in between, are omnipresent and this is the very reason we become less attentive to them.
Becoming less sensitive to reality due to the satiating effect of media is neither good, nor bad, it is just a fact. Just like it is a fact that past generations were easier to be shocked than people nowadays. However, it becomes a problematic issue when the attention span for one story ends where the next more painful, more dramatic headline begins.
Additionally, engaging with news is not an exclusive activity any more. When was the last time you consumed news solely for the sake of information? We engage with stories while commuting, while working, while life with all of its distractions passes by, obstructing us from the actual information process. Research shows that people do not even read whole articles anymore, only the first part and the first sentence of the following paragraphs. There’s no time to engage with the news, let aside to process and get emotionally involved.
In the end, it seems that first, multitasking and second, desenzitation are the reasons why journalism isn’t really working anymore for its audience. So how to bring news closer to the people? How to make media consumers more attentive and receptive to content that matters?
The answer is immersive journalism.
Nonny de la Peña, pioneer in innovative journalism research, decided to use virtual reality and 3D environments to convey the sights, sounds and feelings of the news. She was the first to introduce the term immersive journalism, the production of news in a form in which people can gain first person experiences of the events or situation described in news stories.
By wearing goggles, people can finally dive into the news. That way they become the witness of the story rather than a passive listener. Also, the audiovisual material is oftentimes enriched with extra text or graphics, so that the experience is not only sensational, but highly informative. After running tests and experiments, Academia already claimed that “the important role of immersive journalism could be to reinstitute the audience’s emotional involvement in current events”. The message also arrived at studios, media houses and independent journalistis: From the New York Times to the Huffington Post, numerous immersive 360 projects were published. And not only did they gain positive responses from regular readers. They also did attract new interest groups like the VR community and expanded their target reader group.
The following four 360 projects are significant examples for amazing journalistic coverage and media innovation.
Hunger in Los Angeles – De la Peña
De la Peña’s Hunger in Los Angeles was the first virtual reality film to be shown at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012. It presented the oftentimes terrifying truth about food banks in a recreated scene, but triggered real emotions. The people indeed reacted as if they were originally there themselves to witness the terrible events. Hunger in Los Angeles became a milestone in the field of 360 journalism, and can be seen as the first step towards a new type of storytelling.
Ivory Burn – New York Times
In 2016, President Uhuru Kenyatta set 105 metric tons of illegally collected elephant ivory on fire in order to make clear that Kenya will actively fight illegal ivory trade. The New York Times covered the story about this massive fire of burning elephants tusks (approximately 6000 to 7000 elephants were killed because of their precious ivory) and offered its audience a breath-taking close-up into one of the strongest political “statements” of the year.
The crossing – RYOT
The Huffington Post and VR storytelling platform RYOT launched a reporting series, hosted by Susan Sarandon, about the Syrian refugee crisis. The discarded life vests, the soaked wet clothing, the desperation and the exhaustion: One can imagine the effect of witnessing the tragedy in virtual reality. Could this kind of news presentation ever be compared to a regular article?
Donald Trump Rally, Election 2016 – New York Times
Again, the New York Times decided to bring politics even closer to their readers by filming the rally of the US Presidential elections 2016 in 360. Since there is scientific evidence that the more one engages with political content in the media, the higher his or her levels of actual political interest and participation, it is only a matter of time to eventually see if virtual reality and immersive journalism might create a sociopolitically more active and engaging audience.