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Extended Reality (XR) offers newsrooms 3 key opportunities

By Michelle Palmer Jones

INMA

Nashville, Tennessee, United States

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If the terms VR, AR, MR and XR don’t mean much to you or are just plain confusing, you’re not alone. The good news is more people are new to this technology and trying to figure it all out. Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality are technologies newsrooms can use to better engage their audiences and increase revenue.

INMA Product Initiative Lead Jodie Hopperton kicked off a six-session Master Class, How Newsrooms Can Creatively Use and Report on XR, in partnership with Meta on Monday, tackling the topic of how to talk about XR with news audiences.

INMA Product Initiative Lead Jodie Hopperton is leading the six-part Master Class, which continues in January.
INMA Product Initiative Lead Jodie Hopperton is leading the six-part Master Class, which continues in January.

Laura Hertzfeld, a storytelling innovation executive, shared her passion with more than 200 attendees from 36 countries on Monday. 

XR, or Extended Reality, is the all-encompassing term used to talk about immersive learning technologies like VR, AR, and MR. Hertzfeld broke it down for INMA members:

  • Virtual Reality is where you put yourself in a headset and take out the existing environment around you. “So you are blocked off from the world, you have the headset on, and you are really interacting with a virtual environment in the headset,” Hertzfeld said.

  • Augmented Reality takes a 3D object or something animated and puts it in your actual space. If you’ve ever gone on a website that allows you to upload a photo and see what different furniture, flooring, or paint colors look like inside your home, you’ve experienced AR. “If you’ve put a filter on your Instagram, you’ve done AR. If you’ve played Pokemon Go, you’ve experienced AR,” Hertzfeld said. “So it’s kind of demystifying this.”

  • The definition of Mixed Reality is more fluid right now, but it represents how you can use both a headset and real life and have them both come together. “What Mark Zuckerburg talks about as far as meetings in the Metaverse. If we were on Zoom and we could all feel like we were in the same room, what would that really be like,” Hertzfeld said.

Hertzfeld believes we’re getting close to getting to this point and VR glasses, that are getting more advanced by the minute, will be a part of it.

“I think for journalism, it’s important to think about MR as paying attention to what’s going on in this space and staying on top of it and understanding how are all these projects that we’re doing — how are all these stories we’re trying to tell — going to live in the next version of this,” she said.

3 reasons to consider XR

Hertzfeld detailed some incredible benefits of using XR in newsrooms. She says none of it, though, will work if companies aren’t ready to act on new technology when it comes. For example in stories, can you take a 3D image of something that’s available and put it in the story?

Laura Hertzfeld, a storytelling innovation executive, gave INMA members three reasons to invest in XR.
Laura Hertzfeld, a storytelling innovation executive, gave INMA members three reasons to invest in XR.

“That’s really about changing how you think about content for your graphics editors,” she said. “Not scaring anybody with building all this 3D content, but what’s available and how can you change that workflow to think about incorporating more 3D into your site.”

  1. Reader engagement: One of the most compelling benefits Hertzfeld has seen in the XR projects she’s worked on is that it leads to greater time spent, which leads to more content consumed and an increase in revenue.
  2. Opportunities for sponsored content and advertising integration. “So if you keep up with this for storytelling, it also offers opportunities to add sponsored content and add new experiences for advertisers,” Hertzfeld said.  
  3. Tech knowledge. XR also helps producers stay on top of new technology and prepare for the future. “I do think news organisations sometimes feel like they get burned when they do a heavy investment up front and then they’re scared to reinvest again,” Hertzfeld said. “No one knows what they’re doing at this point, so it’s trial and error. There are some low-impact and low-investment ways to see what might work for your newsroom.”

As far as minimal investment, Hertzfeld says there are a lot of 3D asset libraries where it’s really easy to grab things from there to put into your stories. She also recommends training your teams on photogrammetry using an iPhone. This is where you can take hundreds of pictures of an object and put them together to make a 3D version of the object. Hertzfeld is also a big fan of QR codes and believes they’re a way to share stories more broadly.

“I can even imagine a QR sticker campaign for a series of stories you were doing out there in the community,” Hertzfeld said. “It doesn’t have to be immersive, but thinking of ways to market your content in new and innovative ways.”

She also recommended a few ways to incorporate XR that will take a bit more of an investment but arent outrageously expensive.

Laura Hertzfeld gave attendees an idea of what sort of investment levels they could consider.
Laura Hertzfeld gave attendees an idea of what sort of investment levels they could consider.

“Audio is really where I see an opportunity in that mid-range. I think a lot of your organisations are already doing podcasts and audio experiments,” Hertzfeld said. “If you have great audio producers, I guarantee you they are interested and thinking about what they can do in different ways with audio content.” 

Media teams also could create their own original 3D objects. Hertzfeld recommends using freelance 3D artists who can create something for for newsrooms that don’t have someone on staff who does this.

There’s also an opportunity for newsrooms to build out immersive content like special filters on Instagram and Snapchat that relate back to content on your Web site, she said: “Spark AR is what Snapchat and Instagram use and there’s a lot of developers out there who can help you create content for those platforms.”

For newsrooms looking to go all in on XR technology, there are examples of narrative, long-form VR content. It’s a huge time and financial investment, Hertzfeld said, but the payout could be big.

“If you have a story that warrants it, it might be worth it,” she said. Newsrooms can also start exploring new platforms like the Metaverse.

Sharing with readers

So, once your team start experimenting with XR, how is that explained to users? Hertzfeld warns to stay away from using tech terms: “Your audience doesn’t need to know something is Augmented Reality or Mixed Reality or whatever you’re calling it internally.”

Instead, be creative and use language that will tell people you’re doing something new without alienating them.

“You know you’re doing something cool,” she said. “How do you tell the audience it’s cool without being so tied to those technical terms?”

Media companies will get much farther instructing audiences about what to do, using words they understand like “see this in 3D” or “put this in your space.”

She suggests making a tutorial for users who likely don’t yet know what they’re doing. Hertzfeld urges to make it fun and creative, like a game, to keep them engaged.

Providing context to your XR project

“One of the learnings is really being able to tie the piece that you’re doing quite directly to whatever the larger story is,” Hertzfeld said.

Hertzfeld shared a list of a few of her favourite recent projects:

Hertzfeld recommends teaming up with a community partner who you can collaborate with on a bigger project, perhaps a non-profit, a technology company, or fellow news organisation.

The free Master Class continues in January. Register here

About Michelle Palmer Jones

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