Vice & Spike Jonze forecast the use of VR in journalism at Sundance Festival

by: Lucinda Southern on 27 January 2015

VR finds credibility through its usage in journalism, creating immersive storytelling previewed at Sundance Festival

(Image from Vice News)

Journalism has a heritage of pushing forward the communicative powers of new technology; from the telegraph to Twitter, technological developments have had massive implications on how news is gathered and reported.

Media company Vice is the first to use virtual reality in journalism, in a partnership with VR specialist VRSE and filmmaker Spike Jonze, previewing at Sundance Festival.

Shown on 23rd January at the festival, the first VR news coverage featured reporter Alice Speri covering the Millions March in New York City on December 13th 2014, as 60,000 New Yorkers took to the streets to call for nationwide police reform.

The coverage was captured by a 360-degree VRSE built VR camera system kept in constant motion, so the viewer sees, hears, and experiences the news-making moments.

Vice is partnering with Chris Milk, owner of reality content platform and production house, VRSE. The VRSE app is downloadable on smartphones showing the non-VR capabilities, while “VICE NEWS VR: Millions March” footage can also be experienced through Google Cardboard in its VR glory.

Two other VR projects currently sit on the VRSE app, one following the life of a 12 year old Syrian refugee, and a photo-realistic CGI journey called “Evolution of Verse,” with more to be added in the future.

Milk explains how VR will do much to increase the emotive power of Vice’s news coverage; “If you combine [Vice's] tenacity with the immersive power of virtual reality, what you get is an intense connection between audience and story. People will be able to feel the presence of a foreign land, and wells of empathy for the people inhabiting it.”

Spike Jonze, Vice creative director and filmmaker, explains he has been in talks with Milk for a year about the prospects of using virtual reality in journalism.

“Living in New York this fall and feeling these spontaneous protests against police brutality that have been forming and growing, it seemed like this was the most timely and important subject to go shoot,” he explains. “When we got the footage back and watched it on the goggles, I was so moved by what we had. I had this feeling of being very fortunate to be at the beginning of an entirely new storytelling medium.”

Vice has invested in new ways of telling stories through technology, from live-streaming video to incorporating drone footage. VR news footage will go far to bring audiences closer to the action, enhancing the emotive and empathetic elements of quality news coverage, a VR application that goes beyond the gimmick.