The evolution of AR in journalism

Azuma (2015) sees storytelling as one of the most important ways to utilize augmented and mixed reality. John Pavlik and Frank Bridges see AR as serving the same function as news: “it augments the user’s experience with the real-world, natural environment” (Pavlik & Bridges 2013,6).

One can argue that sports broadcasts paved the way for AR in journalism. AR has been used in sports at least since 1998, when Sportvision broadcast the first virtual yellow first down marker during a live American football National Football League (NFL) game ( 2016).These real-time virtual lines, visible to TV audiences, have been used since then in many other sports events, such as athletics and swimming, to indicate record times or target levels.

Newsrooms started experimenting around 2010 with AR technology using printed paper extensions and Quick Response (QR) codes. Esquire magazine created a cover and a few articles for their November 2009 issue that could be augmented with a mobile app (Esquire magazine 2009; Pavlik & Bridges 2013). In a similar vein, augmenting Stiddeutsche Zeitung’s SZ magazine in 2010, users could watch videos using the mobile app Metaio (O’Hear 2010). The New York Times Magazine used a QR code on its 10th anniversary special cover in 2010 to link users to short video clips (Pavlik & Bridges 2013). Some early examples were various companies that targeted children (The Hamilton Spectator 2016; Baluja 2013), experimented with AR advertising (The Guardian 2012), and created a location- based experience (Valcarce, Bolos, & Recio 2017). Similar extensions to print products have been produced around the world. Table 13.1 lists early print AR extensions from different countries.

Smaller news outlets have rarely tried out AR. In a 2017 survey for local newsrooms in the US, none of the respondents reported using AR (Radcliffe, Ali & Donald 2017), despite the fact that researchers had found some evidence of AR productions. For example, The Herald and News in Klamath Falls, Oregon, has experimented with AR since 2015 (Radcliffe, Ali & Donald 2017).The same report hinted at newsrooms’ modest interest in learning about AR technology.

From 2016 onwards, AR journalism applications have mostly used 3D models, location-based stories, and augmented studios. Big media outlets in the US have led this development. In some rare cases, smart glasses have been utilized, and AR has occasionally been also used as a reporting tool. We now look at some of the most prominent examples.

TABLE 13.1 Examples of printed paper AR extensions from different countries.


Publisher/magazine /newspaper & year of publication



Clacier Media: 12 newspapers in 2013

Toronto Star 2013 Winnipeg Free Press 2013 The Hamilton Spectator 2016

  • (Layar 2013)
  • (Emrich 2013; Baluja 2013) (Hamilton Spectator 2016)


SZ magazine 2010 Stern 2011

Welt der Wander 2011 Auto Bild 2015 Rlteinische Post 2015

(O’Hear 2010) (Raso et al. 2016)


Mid-Day: QR code 2010 Times of India 2012 Dainik Bltaskar 2016

(Pahwa 2010) (Chaudhary 2012) (Goyal 2016)


Tokyo Shimbun 2013

(Baluja 2013)


The Star. iSnap 2012

(Mahpar Sc Mahalingam 2012)


Fotogramas magazine: QR code 2010

(Valcarce, Bolos & Recio 2017)

United Kingdom

The Guardian: AR advertising 2012 The Times 2013 The Telegraph 2013 The Independent 2013 Talk About Local 2013

  • (The Guardian 2012) (Witkin 2013)
  • (Press Gazette 2013)

United States

Esquire magazine 2009 The New York Times Magazine: QR code 2010 Boston Clobe Winter Arts Guide 2011

(Esquire magazine 2009) (Pavlik & Bridges 2013) (Kieslow 2011)

When using 3D models for AR, graphics are superimposed over the user’s real environment via a smartphone app. The Washington Post first used AR in May 2016, when they published a story on the arrest and death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, using narrated scenes with 3D models for their app (WashPostPR 2016). They continued with a series on architecture (Moses 2017). Quartz updated their iPhone app with AR capabilities in September 2017, bringing to life, for example, the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, the Roland TR-808 drum machine and the Berlin Wall (Southern 2017). The New York Times released their first AR production for mobile phone in February 2018, centered on the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and sponsored by Ralph Lauren (Branch 2018). A different perspective was given by the Tham Luang Cave story, also at The New York Times: it brought to the user’s environment models of the small openings of the cave where 13 members of a youth soccer team were trapped in 2018 (Beech 2018). Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) introduced a Space Discovery app in May 2018 (Bazley 2018).

Applications for AR glasses remain rare, as the technology has not yet become more common. CNN (Roettgers 2019) and Cheddar (Strange 2018) have released news applications for the Magic Leap One AR glasses, allowing users to pin regular 2D news videos to the walls and ceilings of their real environment.

Similarly to how sports broadcasts have employed AR, television studios can be augmented too. In May 2018, ABC News in the United States produced an augmented news report on air about the British royal wedding with 3D models brought to the studio (ABC News 2018), and they had an AR studio for the US midterm elections (Jacobson 2018). A1 Jazeera has also built AR studios to cover the Winter Olympics 2018 (Hill 2018a) and provide a tour ofjerusalem (Hill 2018b), among other topics.

One of the most active news outlets to augment studios has been The Weather Channel (together with the Future Group).They have used AR in weather forecasts since summer 2018 (LaForme 2018).The company has planned to produce 80 percent of its programming using AR andVR by 2020, according to their Director of Weather Presentation in a Washington Post interview (Cappucci 2018).Their weather forecasts from 2018 and 2019 have portrayed a tornado that also seems to enter the studio and break it apart, a hurricane with rising water levels with the meteorologist standing next to the flood, and an ice storm that causes a bus to almost crash into the meteorologist situated in the middle of the scene.

These fact-based but obviously made-up animations bring about some ethical considerations. It should be considered how the forceful visualizations affect attention and whether they interfere with or direct viewers’ attention toward the storms’ facts and impacts. In addition, the relation between factual information and visual speculation calls for ethical discussion.

Besides speculative animations, AR does raise more general ethical issues in journalism. Fundamental public values, such as privacy (e.g. issues related to recording, face-recognition technology, and ownership of AR information) and balance of power (who sets the standards for technology'?) touch upon AR (Royakkers et al. 2018). The physical appearance of technology can affect social situations, and sensor-based reality has an effect on privacy, security, and trust. Ethics should therefore be considered in the design and applied to the possible interventions needed, researchers argue (Mann et al. 2018). Use of smart glasses creates concerns about privacy, identity, autonomy, and ownership (Wolf, Grodzinsky, & Miller 2016). AR also poses legal challenges (Lemley & Voloch 2017) that relate to privacy, marketing, intellectual property, real property, torts, personal injury, and criminal acts (Wassom 2014). Another ethical consideration is what topics are even suitable for AR (Kunova 2019).

What about harnessing AR technology' as a reporting tool? The Hindustan Times employed Snapchat filters when Yusuf Omar interviewed underage survivors of rape. The filters, used during the interviews, helped to create anonymity and give a sense of security to the interviewees on the extremely sensitive topic (Scott 2016).

AR could also be used for crowdsourcing. One research paper found that AR could be applied in crowdsourcing processes to support its planning and crowdworkers’ activity and for sharing and consuming location-based usergenerated content (Vaataja et al. 2013).

News organizations continue experimenting with AR. Google News Initiative, the Knight Foundation and the Online Journalism Association gave out Journalism 360 Awards in December 2018. Three of the 11 winners included AR in their project descriptions: these relate to 3D assets, a spatialized audio editor, and AR prototypes for health and science news (Knight Foundation 2018).

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