Newsrooms and media companies are turning to Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Extended Reality (XR) to enrich their storytelling. Industry professionals say understanding and using AR and XR is important in leading the way, but it’s also important to use the new technology in a way that upholds journalism ethics.
Henry Keyser, director of XR editorial at Yahoo, and Professor Chao-Chen Lin, professor at National Taiwan University, shared the best ways newsrooms and media companies can incorporate AR and XR into their storytelling during the INMA XR Master Class series sponsored by Meta.
Due to Yahoo’s efforts in training producers to use XR as a tool, Keyser said the company has published over 200 XR and Web AR projects that have reached over 5 million users over the past two years.
While AR is still an immersive storytelling medium, it’s more about simplifying what is required to tell that story, Keyser said. AR is a way to make users feel something by bringing the story to them.
“It’s about bringing something from far away and placing it in the user’s living room, in the person’s park, in the person’s home in some way so that they feel a new connection to this far away place,” Keyser said.
Tips for using AR
Keyser emphasised that a story only needs a few elements in order to be explored, sharing two ways to use AR:
1. Simplify your scene:
Keyser said most AR users are on their mobile devices, so you want to keep things simple. He used the popular game Pokemon GO as an example, explaining there are only about five digital elements being used in its augmented scene: “When you start to simplify, you start to find that you strip away the unnecessary for your project.”
2. Solutions from constraints.
Keyser suggested starting a project from a question. From there, use three-dimensional elements to then answer that question.
“As you find that you only need a few things to answer that question, you’ll find that you actually don’t make your production any larger than it needs to be,” he said, adding that companies can consider the size of the project or think about their project in chapters or scenes.
Keyser described a typical VR scene as having five layers or elements: environment, object, subject, sound, and sky. However, when working with AR, he said you don’t necessarily need all five layers to create an in-depth experience.
Instead, Keyser said, you can substitute those layers with actual reality: “You may not need that part of the environment. Maybe part of that story is about bringing the subject into your space, bringing objects into your space.”
Keyser also highlighted the ways companies can protect their Augmented Reality projects.
In AR, it is important to protect the subject and value of a story because the user is more capable of taking advantage of and sharing secondary media. Keyser suggested design elements such as walls or barriers around a subject, object, or scene to limit a user from placing themselves into the scene.
AR in the newsroom
Lin believes AR isn’t necessarily new but has been a part of digital news for some time. Lin described AR news as a digital tool that is used locally and said that the most common types of stories to incorporate AR are tourism and sports, but that those topics are expanding.
“In the world of AR, we should think more about newsroom production because you can augment what you know about news and what you have experienced of news,” Lin said.
Lin also shared videos showing the different ways people are stepping into the AR world, including a Japanese artist’s production, newspapers adding virtual elements, and The New York Times’ AR elements during their Winter Olympics coverage, which combined photos, text, and charts to visualise the movement of athletes.
In Taiwan, Lin said you can find AR in observatories, museums, apps, and even in medical, historical, and educational settings. When combined with news, this mixed reality creates a fascinating challenge, Lin said: “AR and VR combined becomes XR, people now understand what immersive news is, and then it creates interaction that has never been seen before, so this helps people understand reality even better.”
Lin and Keyser named the top three points they felt were most important to uphold journalism ethics when creating AR projects.
Professor Chao-Chen Lin:
- Ensure the user is in a safe environment that allows them to act safely.
- AR news requires elements of reality—news isn’t art or a game, it’s information and needs to contain meaningful and useful information.
- Use a platform that provides the best experience for users to consume the news story and limit the use of AR filters and other such elements.
- Be clear about what is real and what is symbolic within your XR scene.
- Ensure the audience is walking away with the truthful message of your journalism and they aren’t misinterpreting the message because they are new to XR or don’t understand the format.
- Try to inform the users how you made your project and why you made it.