Immersive storytelling: AMA with Journalism 360 ambassadors

Conversations with Data: #4

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Welcome back to our data conversation!

As you know, each edition, we’ll be crowdsourcing your advice in an area related to data journalism, or inviting you to ask an expert for their tips.

Last time, we thought it would it be fitting to gather your thoughts on using the crowd to source data. For this edition, we gave you the opportunity to ask a selection of Journalism 360 ambassadors questions about immersive storytelling.

Journalistic uses of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), 360 video, and other techniques, have gained momentum over the past few years. Some cool data examples include The Wall Street Journal’s VR roller coaster, which follows the ups and downs of Nasdaq, Google News Lab’s Brexit project, and Lookout360°, a 6-month climate change immersive story accelerator.

While these examples highlight the potential of immersive data journalism, we know that a lot of you still have questions about using these techniques yourself. So, without further ado, let’s get immersed.

What you asked

First off, you asked: what is the most common mistake journalists make when starting out with immersive storytelling?

Thomas Seymat, Euronews: "Assuming it’s too difficult or too different from what you are used to is a common misconception before jumping in. It’s not that different, and the role of the journalist is still key with this medium. And when it comes to immersive content, be very mindful of movements -- avoid pitch, roll and yaw at all cost".

Robert Hernandez, USC/JOVRNALISM: "Waiting. You don’t need expensive equipment and you don’t need to wait for this technology to go mainstream before you start exploring this emerging field. Start now! Fail and learn from those experiences to be better prepared for when this tech does go mainstream, whether through phones, headsets or desktops".

Retha Hill, New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab: "Trying to direct the action using 2D techniques. Viewers might not look where you want them to, so it is important to onboard them -- use audio and other cues to get them to look around and follow the story".

On Retha’s last point, you also asked about the difference between creating immersive data visualisations and 2D ones.

Óscar Marín, Outliers Collective, provided the following notes:

  • "There are no UX/UI guidelines for immersive data visualisation. We’re still discovering them, while classic DataViz UX is very well-established."
  • "There are several layers of information based on the distance from the user viewpoint (intimate distance, ‘menu’ distance, background), each one with its own rules regarding usability and data visualisation. In 2D, we only have the ‘rollover’ paradigm."
  • "There are 3D equivalents to well-established 2D metaphors such as treemaps and networks, but there’s still some work trying to figure out what to do with the extra dimension."
  • "In my opinion, what works really well is ‘old’ 2D visuals -- for example, a map -- that ‘launch’ content and data on the extra dimension, thus transforming the data visualisation into a ‘platform’ that helps dig deeper into data and content."

Following on, there’s a lot of talk about whether immersive storytelling is better at fostering empathy than 2D formats. You asked if the ambassadors agree.

Robert Hernandez: "What is powerful about this technology is that you get immersed into an experience. You can put yourself in other people’s shoes and that certainly offers you a unique perspective compared to other mediums. A searchable spreadsheet can only take you so far. Even a 2D data visualisation, while effective, has its limits. The ability to immerse yourself into the data or bring data into the real work has so much potential".

Does this mean you have to be a technical person to produce immersive journalism?

"No, especially if you use self-stitching cameras. Plus more and more tools are being released that are making AR and VR more accessible to non-developers."

So then, what technology is best for journalism 360 projects?

Thomas Seymat: "I think one of the most interesting technologies for 360 journalism projects is WebXR because it helps build web-based VR or AR experiences. It’s not the easiest to master, but being readily available via browsers is better in terms of UX because the users don't need to download an app".

Óscar Marín: "On a low-level, WebVR tools like AFrame, which are similar to what HTML+CSS is for the ‘current’ web. On a high-level, tools like Fader that help you build stories without coding. My understanding is that at the very moment a good, clean, easy interface for building stories launches, 360 journalism adoption will sky-rocket".

Robert Hernandez: "Go with an affordable, self-stitching camera like the Insta360 ONE to start. Use free platforms like Google Tour or Story Spheres to make your 360 photos come alive with interactivity and sound. When you are ready for videos, I recommend higher-end cameras stitched via Mistika VR and edited with Adobe Premiere and plugs like Skybox. Then use Google Poly and Snapchat Lens Studio to start easily exploring AR. Then dive into photogrammetry with RealityCapture and Unity".

Our next conversation

Thanks to everyone for contributing questions! If you’ve been inspired to start experimenting, don’t forget that Journalism 360 is currently offering grants of up to $20,000 each to test, refine and build out an immersive project.

Next time, we’re sourcing your advice on telling stories with open data. Got a surprising success story? Or a go-to resource? Let us know.

Until next time,

Madolyn from the EJC Data team

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