Eight takeaways for newsrooms to integrate augmented, virtual or mixed reality into the workplace

RJI invited five journalists from across the globe to participate in a two-day discussion around immersive video storytelling, Sept. 17–18.  They came to teach, test and try the newest in technology surrounding augmented, virtual and mixed reality.

Some were practitioners, some entrepreneurs, some journalists. Coming into the two-day event, not all were convinced of the efficacy of the technology and its applicability in the marketplace. But after a rich experience in labs, classrooms and newsrooms, each emerged more energized at the prospect of what comes next.

“What I loved about the Magic Leap demo, was that I was able to also put myself into Microsoft HoloLens, right afterward,” said Mashable’s Pete Pachal. “It was really great to have them one after the other and to compare strengths and weaknesses.”

Fast Company’s Harry McCracken concurred with the hands-on sessions. “I’d used the Vive and the HoloLens,” McCracken noted. “Magic Leap I had not tried at all.”

Pachal and McCracken, along with The New York Times’ Veda Shastri, Euronews trainer and RJI Fellow Thomas Seymat and Healium/StoryUp Founder Sarah Hill, spent two days immersed in the tech, and in classroom and newsroom settings at the Missouri School of Journalism, as well as in the Department of Architectural Studies in the University of Missouri’s College of Human Environmental Sciences, and the College of Engineering.

After two fully packed days, they emerged with eight takeaways for organizations interested in integrating augmented, virtual or mixed reality into the workplace.


Engagement isn’t just about more immersive storytelling experiences.  It’s also about newsrooms engaging with the tools to understand their efficacy.  As Shastri says: “For us, it’s important that we’re constantly engaging with these tools and developing a language of storytelling.”


Immersive experiences have already gone mainstream, and the number of successful experiences is building opportunity. “Snapchat filters are AR experiences,” Seymat says.  “Pokemon Go!, of course, was one of them.  People already used that, playing with this layer of digital content on top of the real world.”


Those experiences are building excitement, along with new hardware and tools to better tell and experience stories.  According to McCracken, “there’s totally promise.  With anything like this, you need the hardware working well. You need to have people creating content for it.  And you need to have users excited for it.  And each of those three things is dependent on the other things.”


Part of the allure of immersive storytelling lies in empathy, intimacy and a deep sensory experience.  “It definitely develops a sense of intimacy, where you’re able to be alone in a room with someone you wouldn’t be able to have access to, or a space you wouldn’t have access to,” says Shastri.


But in order for immersive storytelling to really gain traction, organizations have to move beyond experimentation. Pachal says that an organization needs a team that’s on board.  “You need people helping you design the content. Otherwise, it’s kind of an experimental thing you’re just kind of doing.”  McCracken adds, “Just being able to experiment and try things, this is probably the best era for that.”


That requires a level of enterprise often seen in what McCracken calls “insurgent” organizations.  Startups and early emerging companies are willing to take risks established organizations aren’t.  And that’s where the biggest change needs to happen. According to Seymat, “Every level of the company has to be involved, from the product department, up to the CEO, and taking the time to try and to fail, that’s a luxury you need to afford if you want to innovate in a large structure.”


It also requires an evolution of the tools to make augmented, virtual and mixed reality more mainstream.  “What’s going to be the inflection point is when we have a headset, basically a pair of glasses that look and feel just like a regular pair of glasses, or very, very close,” says Pachal. “There are a lot of engineering breakthroughs that need to happen to get to the dream of true AR glasses.”


That said, there’s much to do and much to learn.  As McCracken states, “I’d like to see more conversations between people like me, the students and teachers here. I know I learned a lot.  I hope they learned a lot as well.  I’d like it a lot if this were sort of an ongoing conversation.”

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