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The Ethical Challenges of Immersive Journalism

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Published February 28, 2018 in MediaShift. Read the full story here

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It’s the year 2028. In your virtual reality (VR) headset, where you can watch the news in an immersive, 360-degree view, the President of the United States is standing in front of you. But are you sure it’s really the president, and not a simulation reciting some troll’s script? Can you trust VR journalists to be honest with audiences and follow journalistic ethics?

Questions of ethics and transparency are growing among journalists and scholars, as media companies increasingly experiment with the power of VR and augmented reality (AR.) Both technological advances allow users to interact personally with news reports via the creation of virtual scenes viewed through headsets.

Now that misinformation is increasingly a problem for the media industry, the challenge for VR journalism is to prevent dishonest organizations and individuals from producing fake VR work and passing it off as real. Meanwhile, the high cost of creating immersive journalism is cause for concern among some media ethicists.

Is VR A Fad Or The Future?

“Immersive journalism,” which brings AR or VR to journalism, was symbolically born on a chilly day in January 2012 at the Sundance Film Festival when documentary journalist Nonny de la Peña presented Hunger in Los Angeles, about the lack of food in some Los Angeles neighborhoods. Reporters described audiences there as “visibly affected.” Simply by putting on a headset, viewers could leave behind a snowy day in Park City and be transported to a warm day at a food bank in downtown L.A.

At that point, the term “VR journalism” was only used by technologists and a small circle of tech journalists pioneering efforts in the field. That August, the small startup Oculus Rift launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised $2.5 million to develop its second prototype VR headset. Two years later, Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion. By early 2016, immersive reporting was showing up in newsrooms across the United States, including The New York Times, CNN, USA Today, The Guardian, AP.

And some projections suggest that VR could have staying power. According to UK-based consulting company CCS Insight, the global VR market will be worth over $9 billion by 2021. Goldman Sachs projects that the combined global economic impact of VR and augmented reality (AR) will grow to $80 billion by 2025 (up from $2.5 billion in 2016).

Published on February 28, 2018 in MediaShift. Read the full story here

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