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article imageJournalists using virtual reality should show moderation

By Tim Sandle     Dec 10, 2017 in Business
Virtual reality can pull readers over to news sites to view immersive content; however, the extent of this needs to be moderated otherwise news credibility will suffer. Journalists should take note in this era of fake and misleading news.
Virtual reality is becoming commonplace across a number of spheres and journalism is no exception. For example, The Guardian has launched an online virtual reality section and provided readers of its print edition with a cardboard virtual reality contraption (or alternatively the Google Cardboard or Daydream headset) to allow readers to view stories via a smartphone.
The numbers and types of stories subject to the enhancement experience should be moderated, however. This is according to analysis from Penn State University. The researchers argue that virtual reality stories need to avoid being too flashy or gimmicky, or else the credibility will suffer and the message could become distorted.
The Penn State assertions are based on a study, involving 129 volunteers. Subjects were either shown similar news stories as virtual reality renditions, as 360-degree videos, or in print form. One set of stories were about refugees and another was about marine biologists and the vocalizations of dolphins.
The outcome was that the study participants indicated that stories experienced in virtual reality significantly outperformed text-based articles in several categories. The stories rated high for a sense of presence and for increasing reader empathy for the story's characters.
Commenting on this part of the research, lead investigator Professor S. Shyam Sundar said: "VR stories provide a better sense of being right in the midst of the story than text with pictures and even 360-degree video on a computer screen."
However, the researcher cautioned that the flashier design elements of virtual reality could well affect the credibility of news articles and lead to the audience having less trust in the story. This was found when certain stories, for the study, as virtual reality experiences were run in parallel with the same news as reported in print or standard online form by the New York Times.
Here Professor Sundar added the following observation about virtual reality: “if it doesn't give that sense of realism, it can affect credibility. If developers try to gamify it or make it more fantasy-like, for example, people may begin to wonder about the credibility of what they're seeing."
Another observation, which could affect more serious stories, is that the use of 360-degree video and virtual reality demand more attention, and this can affect readers' recall of news story details.
The new research has been published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, with the peer-reviewed paper titled "Being There in the Midst of the Story: How Immersive Journalism Affects Our Perceptions and Cognitions."
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