In the Q&A below, SC&I's Professor of Journalism and Media Studies John Pavlik speaks to journalist Youran Wang of the Social Sciences in China Press about his new book, “Journalism in the Age of Virtual Reality: How Experiential Media Are Transforming News," published by Columbia University Press and released in September, 2019.
In the interview, Pavlik discusses new emerging media he refers to as "experiential media."
The publisher wrote on its website, “With the advent of the internet and handheld or wearable media systems that plunge the user into 360º video, augmented—or virtual reality—technology is changing how stories are told and created. In this book, John V. Pavlik argues that a new form of mediated communication has emerged: experiential news. Experiential media delivers not just news stories but also news experiences, in which the consumer engages news as a participant or virtual eyewitness in immersive, multisensory, and interactive narratives."
Q&A (To read Wang’s original story in Chinese, click here.)
How are experiential news and experiential media defined? What are their key features? Could you give us some examples?
Experiential media are those emerging media that are immersive, interactive, multi-sensory, first-person in perspective, fueled by data and artificial intelligence (or advanced algorithms) and designed with a natural user interface. The key is they allow the user to experience phenomena virtually. Among the most familiar are augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality. Experiential news utilizes these features to create user news experiences often presented for mobile platforms. Among the leading examples are AR and 360 video news experiences from The New York Times (e.g., We Who Remain at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d04n6aE8FOk) and Time magazine’s Inside the Amazon AR experience (https://time.com/longform/inside-amazon-rain-forest-vr-app/)
Who is developing and experimenting with experiential media? Traditional news agencies, tech companies, independent media professionals or other business organizations?
A wide variety of media are developing and experimenting with experiential media and experiential news. Besides those mentioned above, OccupiedVR is a leading producer. Their Living with Jaguars is a prime example. They co-produced this immersive experience with Vice media. A leading journalist in this arena is Nonny de la Peña, whose Emblematic Group has produced a series of important immersive experiences. See https://www.linkedin.com/in/nonny-de-la-peña-4363644
Who is the target market of experiential media? A particular group of audience or the general public?
The market is still developing so that is hard to say. For AR, which can be experienced on handheld devices, the general public is a prime audience. For experiences designed for wearables, the market is still limited, mostly to gamers and professional environments. But in time, the general public will likely have access.
How is experiential media viewed by the mainstream media?
Currently I would say experiential media are viewed by mainstream media as an opportunity to develop as a better way to tell stories and engage the public, but one that is limited because of cost and skills needed to produce such content.
Could you give us a summary of the new approaches to journalism discussed in your book and the technologies employed?
The new approaches I discuss include using AR to create mobile news experiences that can provide more context to the news. This includes more interactivity and geolocation where stories can be accessed an interacted with in proximity to where news has occurred. One form is the Situated Documentary. I also discuss 360 video and VR journalism, which can give the user an enveloping news experiences highlighting omnidirectional sight and sound. Mixed reality blends these forms and in journalism enables the user to experience news stories in a rich, 3D and interactive form on demand via their mobile device.
What are the benefits and risks of these new approaches? In which ways will they impact on the journalistic profession?
Benefits include heightened user engagement, empathy and understanding of the news. Risks include potential ethical concerns such as potential confusion over what is real and what is only virtual. Fake news could evolve into artificial realities.
How are the audience and the market responding to experiential media and other emerging forms of journalism? Are they showing strong growth potential?
The audience and the market are evolving and showing strong growth potential. AR is already very popular and growing in news usage. Growth is happening globally as well especially where 5G is available, such as in South Korea.
What questions are these developing forms raising for media ethics and authority? What would you suggest as standards and guidelines for quality and ethical journalism in the age of virtual reality and artificial intelligence?
Among the important questions and concerns are:
- Will disintermediated multi-sensory experiences via volumetric displays featuring 3D photorealistic, interactive animation and live action blur the lines between the real and the virtual?
- Will EM content become virtually indistinguishable from reality?
- Will neuroreality advance user engagement?
- Will EM become unobtrusive, ubiquitous and persistent?
- What are the ethical and policy concerns: Threats to privacy, security, health (addiction), misinformation (or other crime)? Economic opportunity?
Standards and guidelines for quality and ethical journalism should include employing EM to heighten the reporting of facts accurately and in the pursuit of truth.
Experiential media seems to be a high-tech reliant way of doing journalism and thus an expensive business that may charge high prices, at least for the moment. Also, users need “fancy” devices as well as fast and stable Internet connection to enjoy those immersive, multisensory and interactive narratives. Will this reproduce and exacerbate inequality in access to news and information, as discussed under the idea of digital divide?
The digital divide is a serious concern and steps should be taken to ensure equal and widespread access to experiential news. Foundations and others should support the development of low-cost or free public access to EM journalism, much as public libraries has helped in the past in this regard. Civil society will depend on a well-informed public in the age of virtual reality.
How do you see the future of journalism, an industry increasingly influenced by technological advances? Where are its challenges and opportunities?
I am optimistic about the future of journalism as long as it makes a sustained commitment to creating quality experiential journalism. The challenge will be to do so in a manner that engages all of the public and at a cost that all can afford.
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