The Arrival of Virtual Reality Journalism

DILBERT © 2010 Scott Adams. Used by permission of UNIVERSAL UCLICK. All rights reserved.

DILBERT © 2010 Scott Adams. Used by permission of UNIVERSAL UCLICK. All rights reserved.

By Dan Smigrod

2015 is the year that journalists begin embracing three-dimensional (3D) technology as a visual storytelling tools to amplify their words.

While it may not seem obvious that technology that helps people make confident decisions about leasing and buying real estate is the next big thing in journalism, innovation often takes place at the intersection of a solution that can be used in an unexpected way other than it was originally intended. (See Post-It notes).

Bonus Rich Media Content: Example of a backstage tour experience to embed with a review of A Christmas Carol at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta | Matterport 3D Showcase™ WalkAround™ tour by We Get Around Chief Photographer Dan Smigrod.

If a photo is worth a thousand words to help tell a story, then a 3D tour is worth a thousand photos. Photos are edited views of spaces. 3D tours are immersive, interactive tours that enable anyone to be anywhere at anytime – just as if they are there. And, to fully experience a place from their point of view.

Video: How a Matterport 3D Showcase looks on an iPad. | Intown Expert Realty listing. | Matterport 3D Showcase by We Get Around Chief Photographer Dan Smigrod

Let's use the Matterport 3D platform and Samsung Gear VR power by Oculus, to help understand why emerging  3D technology will rock the world of online journalists and their publishers with this thousand photos-like experience.

Today, the Google-Streetview-on-Steroids viewing experience is possible using a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop. This 'WOW! That's GREAT!' viewing experience is enabled by embedding online the Matterport 3D Showcase media player.  By year-end, add virtual reality to the viewing options such as Gear VR. And, in 2016, add an over-lay of augmented reality. It's all crazy-exciting. And, for those that like the smell of newspaper and ink; crazy-frightening. Business models must evolve. Just ask any former employee of Blockbuster, Radio Shack, Eastern Airlines, Woolworths, Circuit City; and (shake-it-like-a) Polaroid.

With newspaper circulation sinking fast – now less than a third of what it was 70 years ago – it will take more than rearranging the deck chairs to survive. It will take a tectonic shift in thinking ... 

Video: Matterport 3D Media Platform | Video courtesy of Matterport.

The good news for online journalists is that a tectonic shift in the earth's rotation will take place the day that Matterport 3D Showcase + Samsung Gear VR powered by Oculus switches to a seamless and commercially available solution from the testing phase. That's the day that that the Stark Trek Holodeck teleportation experience transforms from science fiction to science fun. I could imagine the timing being concurrent with this year's holiday shopping season.

With this 'Scotty, beam me in' mashup of technologies, journalists will increase readers' comprehension of a place; and empower readers to make location-based decision as if the reader was already there. So, in addition to helping people make confident decisions about leasing and buying, add visiting; booking; reserving; staying and attending.

Video: Samsung's Gear VR is a portable virtual reality headset accessory for the new Galaxy Note 4. It provides a similar experience to the Oculus Rift - but without the wires. The Verge article. | Video courtesy of The Verge

Online journalists – and their publishers – that are among the first to embrace Matterport 3D Showcase rich media content as a visual storytelling tool will have a competitive edge to differentiate their online experience to win more readers; readers that return more often; and readers that stay connected much longer. And, as a result, get more revenue.

Journalists around the global can get started today with 3D photography embedded on their website. When the virtual reality for the masses arrives, the same 3D 'walk around' models will be viewable in a completely new VR way. Same for augmented reality.  Pointy-Haired Boss Publishers that want to wait for the Pollyanna viewing experience to get started – that's infinity, plus 1 – will have already lost readers and revenue to their forward-thinking, innovative competitors that do not have legacy technology such as printing presses paired with truck-rolls.

Any planned news about an indoor place that readers would like to visit is a great starting point for the addition of Matterport 3D Showcase tours.

Then, elevate the places that are not generally open to the public; hard to get to; and far or expensive for readers to travel. Some thought-starters include:

  • The Oval Office in the White House
  • Sistine Chapel
  • The Great Sphinx
  • Ruby Falls (145-foot underground waterfall)
  • Behind-the-scenes set tour of Empire; The Walking Dead or CSI

A seminal moment in online journalism meets Matterport meets Oculus will occur 17-18 April 2015. That's when 400+ media executives, journalists and journalism educators from 40 countries will attend the 16th Annual International Symposium on Online Journalism at The University of Texas at Austin (#ISOJ). To be specific the 'ah ha' moment will happen between, 9:45 am and 11:15 am CT Saturday, 18 April at the session, The Arrival of Virtual-Reality Journalism: Using Immersive 3D Devices for Experiential Storytelling. Among the panelists is Ray Soto, 3D Creative Lead for VR Products for Gannett. Even from his title, you can tell that the world of journalism is about to make your head spin.

I will be attending the two-day Symposium seeking journalists – and publishers – that would like to test and learn in creating three-dimensional Matterport 3D Showcase models via our We Get Around Network of Matterport Pro 3D Camera Photographers that covers hundreds of cities around the globe. (Test and learn with a pro before you buy Matterport cameras and related gear and accessories.)

(For publishers, there are revenue generating opportunities too. Imagine offering enhanced rich media content to clients. Image the possibilities, including behind the scene tours at stadiums; car dealerships; and travel, tourism and hospitality.)

The Symposium is a program of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin.

Before the internet existed, I was employed by a division of Knight-Ridder working on videotext (now known as the internet).  Knight-Ridder concluded that the internet was neither a threat nor an opportunity for its 30+ papers and closed the division.

Unlike Knight Ridder then, journalists and publishers now will get it right. 3D visual storytelling is both a threat and opportunity. I may be off by a year, but those journalist – and their publishers – that embrace this change can be the next Captain James T. Kirk of their industry: [3D] Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its 5-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to see out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man [or woman] has gone before.

"Spock, set warp speed for ... the arrival of virtual reality journalism."


Dan Smigrod (@DanSmigrod) is Founder, CEO and Chief Photographer of Atlanta-based We Get Around – the first and only Georgia photography service company dedicated solely to providing Matterport 3D Showcase™ WalkAround™ video tour services. (@We_Get_Around). Dan is also the Founder of the We Get Around Network of Matterport 3D Pro Camera Photographers offering Matterport services in hundreds of cities globally. Additionally, Dan is also Founder of the Matterport User Group Forum. Dan received a BA, Journalism, Journalism, Marketing and Business from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and attended Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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Dan Smigrod

Founder, CEO & Chief Photographer, 3527 Knollhaven Drive, NE, Atlanta, GA 30319-1908, USA