Start with witness test

In interviews, we focused on the process of making VR journalism concerning the following four themes: what kind of topics are suitable for VR journalism, what kind of staff is required for making VR, the principles ofVR storytelling, and the main problems concerning the publication of VR stories. In the following, we introduce key findings from interviews and connect those to our content analysis results presented earlier and interviews published elsewhere.

In our analysis of Euronews, the topics in 360-degree news vary from Europe’s politics and social problems such as climate change to human interest stories about exciting experiences in exotic environments. Topics in The NYT Daily included politics, but also more broadly social problems, minorities, culture and art in experi- entially interesting surroundings (Sirkkunen & Vazquez-Herrero 2018).

How do VR professionals themselves define topics suitable for more immersive storytelling? There are various ways to make these decisions. For example, in CNN’s newsroom, before starting to make a 360-degree story, journalists evaluate news topics using a pattern they call the witness test. Only topics in which the environment is interesting and creates strong experiences for users should be chosen. Jason Farkas from CNN emphasizes the importance of visceral experiences - for example, jumping out of planes or running with bulls in Pamplona (Watson 2017).

Ville Juutilainen, a journalist from the Finnish national broadcasting company YLE’s Plus Desk, believes giving the user a presence in a new environment is the key to successful VR/360-degree journalism. According to him, the same principle can be used in nearly all themes and topics, from sports to politics, the economy, or future urban visions. VR can be particularly useful in visualizations in which one must give users a sense of size or scale.

It is not only what you see but also from whose angle you see it. If we think about my making a VR story on how pedestrian crossings are insecure for children, I can make the adults look the same from a familiar place down here (from a child’s perspective). We can literally play with different perspectives, which will definitely raise some questions.

Juutilainen 2017

Matilda Hanson from the Swedish newspaper Doyens Nyheter emphasizes the same feature of providing ways for users to perceive the news from different angles than they have normally used, which can be the very asset ofVR journalism.

Therefore, it’s very much the physical experience of almost a presence in these different areas of the world where people don’t get to go normally.

I think it is also a matter of transparency. We do not frame the way we do as photographers. [...] There’s so much that we frame and so much that we cut out (in normal two-dimensional journalism) because we think this is the important story' but, in a way, the readers miss out a lot of things that would make them empathise and understand the world better.

Hanson 2017

As with an interview (Willens 2017), The New York Times’ Marcelle Hopkins, Executive Director of Virtual Reality, highlights the importance of interesting and extraordinary places that lure users to make a visit with 360-degree technology. She thinks that the environments work better than, for example, 360-degree interviews. When using the 360-degree headsets, users also appeared to stay longer exploring the 360-degree environment than watching the same material on flat video (Willens 2017).

Additionally, environments should have something extra for users to experience. Even by 2016, Paul Cheung, then from the AP, had learned that most of the happenings like fashion shows or exhibitions do not bring extra value when documented with 360-degree equipment. However, 2D footage is often sufficient for documenting these kinds of occasions in which the focus is fixed onstage. “The rule of thumb is ‘would you look around you in a certain situation?’ If the answer is yes, then maybe there is an opportunity to create a VR experience” (Brackebush 2016).

Duration is also an important factor. According to Paul Cheung, AP journalists have shifted to shorter news videos, as they seem to work better on social media platforms. However, this does not mean that long form is banned in AP, but longer stories are used, for example, in feature topics (Brackebush 2016).

As a summary of what makes good 360-degree journalism, we state that it is the ability to offer a strong feeling of presence and something to be perceived by the senses. Picking the right, interesting locations worth exploring is also crucial. The third important feature is the possibility of showing the world from an alternative or complementary point of experience. Good-quality sound and footage are also important factors to produce a sense of presence and immersion. A producer from the Finnish production house Zoan, Laura Ala states: “Sound creates easily a half of the virtual reality experience. It is a useful tool in guiding the users as it is in real life also” (Ala 2019; see also Bosworth & Sarah 2019,180-193).

 
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