Crafted Narrative Versus Timely Witnessing
This project’s form is not the only one possible for journalistic VR. Others, including immediate coverage, may be accessible, cheaper, and have journalistic value.
This was a VR piece made by teams whose business is normally producing highly-polished works; Frontline makes long-form broadcast documentaries, and Secret Location produces high-end digital experiences and games. Both of these forms bias toward longer production timelines than does breaking news. This project inherited that approach.
However, plenty of news is produced and disseminated with minimal crafting, especially if the core journalistic value is in quickly disseminating coverage of events. The authors can easily imagine journalistic VR with less emphasis on a shaped narrative, where the attraction for audiences is the chance to feel present in a place where newsworthy events are happening.
However, it is rare for journalists and camera crews to be present when unplanned news happens; although they frequently rush to the aftermath. (While news outlets increasingly have immediate eyewitness footage of events, it is almost always shot by amateurs who give or sell their content to professionals.20 VR-equipment are even less likely to be present when news breaks; the kit is rare, harder to use, and currently services a smaller audience.
Nonetheless, there is still plenty of journalistic value and potential audience interest in giving viewers the opportunity to witness predictable news events or feel present in locations where news has recently happened. (As this report was being finalized, CNN and collaborators transmitted live VR coverage of the first U.S. Democratic Party’s presidential debate in the 2016 election cycle. The field of view was restricted to around 130 degrees and the resolution was low, but the video did not buffer when observed by one of this report’s authors.) The camera and stitching technology developments may make that form of VR journalism more viable. Indeed, Google’s presentation of its “Jump VR” technology shows a direct pipeline between the camera, a vaguely defined system called the “assembler,” and the content’s display on YouTube.