Today’s journalism is incompatible with VR.

Ethics, monetization, and production barriers in media.

The questions Knight Foundation raises in this post are indicative of dysfunction in today’s journalism and less about the possibilities of using VR for storytelling.

Yesterday, I wrote a response to a similar article by Knight Foundation about the limitations of VR in journalism. While I still believe those limitations exist, Knight Foundation makes the case here that VR must adapt to journalism, as if technology has no implications on how journalism is conducted. They write about the state of VR, but what is the state of journalism?

The state of journalism.

Three questions raised by Knight Foundation that are areas in particular decline are ethics, monetization, and the costs of production. The media, like we’ve seen with American politics, is in a state of impending reform.

Ethics are dead

Courtesy of Media Matter for America

Since 9/11 media outlets like Fox have been challenging the traditional definition of journalism and other outlets have followed suit. Today, we have reporters and pundits doing lazy sensationalist news, reporting rumors, and failing to do proper fact checking while calling it journalism.

Of course, a decline in ethics isn’t exclusive to Fox. In November 2015, CNN suspended a journalist for using historical and relevant cultural context in a tweet regarding an American bill that would limit Syrian refugees.

If these are examples of the ethics that VR must adapt to, then it is time we improve our ethics. Perhaps the spherical view of a scene will emphasize the authenticity of the story and the supposed lack of “ability to focus on a particular view” will force journalists to provide more appropriate context. These are necessary improvements for today’s journalism ethics.

Monetization is the devil

I have worked in the interactive media space for five years and I can say that traditional advertisement monetization is the quickest route to alienating your users/readers/viewers. The current state of US media is evidence of this. When an organization or product depends on the revenue of advertisers there is little thought about what the users, the main consumers of your product or service, or the employees, the driving force behind your company, actually want.

Courtesy of Martin Vorel

In apps and visual technology, this leads to streamlined design that allows easier delivery of ads, instead of streamlining the user experience for easier comfortable use. Even worse, in journalism, this leads to censorship and propaganda.

Subscription based service is the best answer in journalism and VR. This allows quality content that the users want to see and not interstitial ads that disrupt their experience. Journalists and designers are then free to write or optimize according to their own principles and not the whims of advertisers. There are some journalism/tech startups already adapting their monetization models to interactive and VR technologies, like Dutch startup, De Correspondent.

Production barriers are excuses for bad content

The idea that time and effort for telling stories with VR remains prohibitive for small and medium-sized organizations is indicative of the assumption that only high presentation quality, usually enormously expensive, content constitutes a story. This is a farce.

Courtesy of Youtube user XtoGameTv — Troxen

As a designer, this idea makes me cringe more than playing this great horror game — Slender. It’s a critically acclaimed freeware game develop in the creator’s spare time in 2012. If you’re a good designer, if you’ve developed your design thinking skills, then finding solutions to issues is a welcome challenge. Those issues are almost always money related. If you have a production barrier preventing you from providing engaging content, then you’re not trying hard enough.

One doesn’t need a large budget to tell a good immersive story. This is another problem with journalism. Too often journalists want the biggest, all-access story at the expense of quality and substance.

If VR is to become a tool for journalism, then journalism and media must adapt themselves to the technology and their constituents — not the other way around.

Originally published on Medium.


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