An undeniable reality of today’s world is that the young generation is much more intelligent and innovative than us – the generation in their 40s or 50s – when it comes to technology.
The reason being, the kind of technology that these kids are exposed to, is sometimes incomprehensible for all of us. Who would have heard about “immersive journalism” in, say during 1970s or 80s? But nowadays this new form of journalism is catching up so rapidly that it has critically questioned the traditional journalistic ethics. A technique that received wider popularity from a war trodden country – Syria – is now considered a very effective form of journalism to create a virtual reality for the audience so that they can develop empathy and understand the news in the first person.
What is Immersive Journalism?
Fundamentally, immersive journalism works on the same principle of virtual reality video games. It takes the participant to become the part of the virtually created scenario of the news story. The immersive system used can be “a Cave, head tracked head mounted display HMD, online virtual realities.” The audience can actually feel, hear and see whatever is going on on the ground. Therefore, the news is no longer the simple statement of facts but it has become an immersive experience which can serve many purposes. As an audience, we can actually feel the plea of the victim of war trodden areas or the people affected by natural disasters can evoke the emotions to support them in a better way.
The technology is based on the fashion of a digital avatar, enabling the representation of the participant in the virtual story; to see the world from the first person perspective. Platforms like Cave or HMD make it possible to have an avatar or their shadow.
Lately, some TV correspondents used “immersive storytelling” technique by combining audio, video, and photographs on the internet, thus enacting the events from past to give the viewers an illusion as if they were present in past.
How new is this ‘new’ technique?
This concept is not new in the world of entertainment. The 3D movies and virtual reality games have served the purposes of both entertainment and education. Such games have proved to be a good source for motor-skill development among the youngsters. Some games are even the real life enactment of the war zones like Afghanistan based on the original news reports, which of course reflect the power of this medium, at the same time it helps to develop commiseration among the participants.
This whole new technology of immersive journalism is not new. The journalists have been experimenting with it even, as back as, in 2012 in The New York Times. The need arose as every journalist cannot be everywhere in the world. Moreover, the function of the news was losing its touch and effects on the public. With the rising degrees of technology people needed more and rapid flow of information. So the journalists started working on the VR side of new media to bring the audience ‘a first-hand experience’ of an earthquake in Nepal, a blast in Syria, blowing up of a school in Ukraine or a tornado in the US.
Different Forms of the Participant
The entrance in the virtual world can take various forms:
• As oneself
• Perspective of one or many characters depicted in the story
• As a visitor who gets the first-hand access to the location/occurrence of the story.
Redeeming Features of Immersive Journalism
It gives an individual a full body experience. This result in very realistic response to a very virtual situation, thus eliciting real responses. This response-as-if-real (RAIR) is surprising as the subject is fully aware of the level of fidelity and understand that he/she is in the virtual world.
The sense of ‘presence’ can be easily compared to ‘tele-transportation’ or ‘time travelling’ or even ‘out of the body experience’. A person is actually able to witness the events/issues, situation of a different part of the world. Recently this concept is given the name ‘place illusion’ or ‘plausibility’ by the experts.
The field of cognitive neuroscience has started paying attention to these processes to understand the neuroscientific process and the bodily reactions to these stimuli. It is more like bringing forth the concept of ‘virtual body ownership.’ As mentioned earlier, a strong sensation of bodily presence is experienced.
This kind of journalism that is based on understanding and empathy; has diluted the line between a movie and a real-life event with some serious ethical implications.
We are literally living in the future of ‘Back to the Future’ Marty!