The immersive trend

Euronews is one of the many large organizations that experiment with producing journalism in 360 degrees, and a growing number of online newsrooms are fueling this process. They are also engaged in international experiments with immersive journalism. In 2016, Euronews partnered with Samsung to promote their cameras through use. This collaboration made it financially easier for Euronews to start experimenting with 360-degree video as part of their workflow. Moreover, Google News Lab-through its Digital News Initiative—has immersive storytelling as one of its focus areas; together with the Knight Foundation and Online News Association,

Google News Lab launched Journalism 360, “an initiative of thought leaders, practitioners, and journalists dedicated to accelerating immersive storytelling in news” (“Journalism 360” n.d.).

In 2017, Google News Lab delivered over US S250,000 to projects investigating ideas within this domain. The aim was “to discover ideas that grow immersive storytelling to advance the field ofjournalism—that inform and encourage news organizations to innovate, experiment and learn” (“Journalism 360 Challenge” 2017). In their call for grant applications, the Knight Foundation wrote that they were “primarily looking for projects that will yield lessons and ‘how-tos’ for the field of journalism” (“Journalism 360 Challenge” 2017). Information about the required equipment, technology, and workflow is important for organizations to experiment.

In addition to grants,Journalism 360 encourages the sharing of experiences and practices of immersive storytelling. On its Medium collection (“Journalism 360” n.d.), dozens of articles and case studies on immersive storytelling are present that serve as a resource bank for emerging VR journalists. Some of the articles were written by Ei/i'0»et«s’journalists and editors who partake in this initiative.To further develop their editorial workflow, Euronews also received support from the Google Digital News Initiative Grant.

To experiment or not to experiment

Watson (2017) reports that the key issues of the news organizations heavily investing in VR, such as through the launching of apps, have been brand innovation and future market positioning. By contrast, organizations that hold back on VR investments might benefit from less risk-taking because technologies are quickly evolving and immersive journalism still is a highly experimental news approach. Watson (2017) reports, however, that most of the organizations from which she collected data endorsed the view that smaller news organizations ought to themselves experiment to understand the benefits ofVR.With simple consumer cameras, this experimentation can be done without great risks, creating a middle ground between the full leap into the unknown and holding back on any experimentation. Euronews approached their experimentation with 360-degree video something akin to this middle ground. According to the Editor-in-Chief of Digital Platforms, Duncan Hooper, they were not going to build their app because it is a big gamble (Flueckiger 2016) and, if they were going to fail, they wanted to fail cheaply (Scott 2016). Moreover, they would not hire an external team of experts but were dependent on innovative, visual work practices that were possible to implement within the existing organizational resource frames.

Euronews’ immersive journalism practices

The identification of the emerging immersive journalism practices of Euronews is based on the direct and indirect qualitative interview data with diverse professionals involved in the organization’s 360-degree video productions. In addition to analyzing the comprehensive material of online interviews and articles in which Euronews’ journalists have shared their experiences with 360-degree video production, we conducted three in-depth, virtual interviews with the Vll editor of Euronews and two VR journalists. To obtain an overview of the work processes of a lightweight 360-degree camera production, we first identify the typical editorial steps, followed by a content analysis of the disseminated videos in the collected data material.

The 360-degree videos at Euronews are produced in various ways, depending on the journalist’s experience and affiliation with the organization. In general, the decision to make a 360-degree production is prompted either by a news event that requires immediate visual action or by a journalist who approaches the VR editor with a pitch. When the idea is actualized, the VR editor will initiate a quick discussion with the reporter before a decision on producing a 360-degree video is made or hire a freelance reporter to make the video. During the subsequent idea exchange with the journalist, the following questions are raised: 1) How can the story be done in 360 degrees? 2) To what extent is the potential 360-degree video production realistic in terms of cost? 3) Have any similar stories been done before? 4) To what degree is the potential story newsworthy? As soon as the topic, angle, and journalist’s time expenditure are decided, the journalist will undergo introductory technical training, unless he or she is already an experienced VR reporter. After one hour of technical instructions on how to use the equipment, the journalist is sent off with a checklist that contains practical tips for executing the production (Krogsgaard 2017). In short, the checklist explains several important aspects of the production, such as the following: 1) cleaning of lenses, 2) appropriate camera settings, 3) aligning of the camera, 4) optimal camera placement relative to motive (height and depth), 5) correct lighting for each camera lens, 6) microphone use under varying conditions, and 7) practices for backup and charging. The checklist can be viewed in its entirety online, where it is shared with other 360- degree enthusiasts (Hooper 2017). In addition to bringing the Samsung GEAR 360-degree cameras to the shoot, the journalist brings a light tripod, a zoom h2n recorder, an iRig mic lav and a Samsung S6 phone for controlling the camera from afar and previewing the shots. It goes without saying that the journalists selected for such a job do have some visual experience before heading off to a job with the checklist and the camera equipment, although they might not be specifically proficient in 360-degree video productions. According to the VR editor, using existing resources and workflows within the organization is a key factor when producing 360-degree videos.

When the shoot is done, the VR journalist is expected to hand over the footage to the online news desk. At Euronews’ section for footage processing, the raw material is stitched in the Gear 360 Action Director (license included with camera purchase) and edited in Edius and After Effects, the software that Euronews uses for their traditional videos. The VR journalists are not supposed to directly engage in the editing process albeit serve as supervisors on the edit of the provided footage.

The journalists prepare the piece and meet with the editor to guide the process while writing the final script to the text article and/or the voiceover of the video. When the edit is done, the video is sent to the graphics department, where the names of the relevant people, places, etc., are added to the video report. If the video has a voiceover, this is recorded in up to 13 languages, in parallel with the video editing.

When Euronews stresses the necessity of integrating 360-degree videos with the existing production workflows, the production costs, even with lightweight cameras, appear to be a main challenge. The data collected in this study indicate that the quickest turnaround time for the shooting and editing process is three full days. The shooting and stitching are done on the first day; the second day involves the editing and writing of script; on the third day, the voiceover is recorded and the videos are exported and uploaded. Often, however, the process stretches over a week because time-sensitive material is not often covered in 360-degree and other productions have priority. A freelance video reporter doing jobs for Euronews explains, “360-degree video is one of the storytelling tools I use, 1 would like to do much more of it, but there is not yet as much demand for it”. He points to the fact that most newsrooms do not have budgets for full-time 360-degree video journalists. Moreover, he emphasizes that 360-degree videos should be “one solely for stories that are visual and/or places that are hard to access”. “For me, 360-degree video production is just one of my freelance gigs”, he says.

The editorial strategy for the 360-degree stories produced by Euronews’ web of freelance journalists is illustrated by the following example: A freelance web journalist in a European country was asked by Euronews to produce a 3-4 min 360-degree video on a natural phenomenon. The story was part of a European-wide project. When agreeing on the assignment, the journalist was instructed that Euronews wanted as little journalistic presence as possible, with no stand-ups and only one interview.The video was supposed to be as country-specific as possible and present no general statements on the news beat. Reflecting back on this particular job assignment, the journalist commented, “editorially, they let me free to build my own story”.

However, according to the journalist, the fee was quite low for the amount of work that went into the project, so he agreed that Euronews would take care of the post-production while he delivered the raw materials and a detailed script. In addition to putting the video together, the digital department at Euronews took care of translating the piece into 12 languages before dissemination.

When Euronews’ 360-degree videos are complete, they are generally uploaded to Facebook, YouTube, Euronews’ own websites and a platform called Veer.tv-one of the largest content communities for VR wherein Euronews has over 83,000 followers. Euronews uses the OmniVirt player, a subscription service, to distribute the videos on their websites and app.

In summary, the editorial quality of360-degree videos at Euronews is thus taken care of mainly at the online news desk. That is, regardless of whether the raw material is produced by staffers or freelancers, the content production is centrally managed and appears to have specific characteristics. Having presented the tools and workflow of 360-degree video productions at Euronews, we move on to the content analysis of the 360-degree videos produced by the news organization.

 
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