360 video or Virtual Reality?

Most of my posts on this blog are in response to assignments for my graduate degree in communications. I am specialising in journalism innovation so we talk and learn about all things technology and how it affects legacy media (old media) companies and new media (social). Within that discussion comes a lot of ethical considerations and many times we end up talking about sci-fi books or movies. I never thought I would talk at length about Demolition Man in graduate school. Needless to say, I will be bringing it up again (wait for it).

This blog is supposed to address how 360 video and virtual reality will affect my future or current career. Well, it already is affecting my career, which for the last 15-plus years has been television news and sports. It wasn’t long ago that we technical directors took 2D video and through video manipulation and use of angles that we tricked the human eye in seeing a 3D effect move across the screen. Then came HD television screens that had all on-air talent scrambling for MAC makeup and an air-brushed tan but ended up not being that bad. Yes, it was a much clearer picture, but you couldn’t see down to every pore on a person’s face as was claimed. Then there was the brief time period when television news stations were capturing the likenesses of their main on-air anchors so their mini version could walk out on your computer desktop or during your favorite daytime show and tell you the latest breaking news or weather update. That promotional feat lasted about as long as it wasn’t annoying (not very long).

Since then, technology has improved so much in the area of 360 and virtual video that there may be a real use for it. In my field, I could see it used for special events like the Fourth of July fireworks, 360 video cameras on a drone as fireworks are launched into the air would be pretty “spectacular” as we like to call them so often. Another special event: the Olympics, imagine being able to watch Katie Ledecky speed swim her events from the bottom of the pool. Or watching the World Cup as if you were standing in the middle of the field?

Are you talking about fluid transfers?

Using technology that can bring events so up close and personal, is a serious thing. From a journalism perspective, careful consideration needs to be made about when to use 360 or virtual reality video to convey information. It should not be used for death, destruction or manipulation of a person or people. Privacy rights are a formidable ethical issue as is disclosure of what the virtual story subject is. It is important that those choosing to transport themselves to a place of stress understand the ramifications. Whether viewing a virtual roller coaster or natural disaster, care has to be taken to avoid any incidents of stress on the viewer’s health. In the movie Demolition Man (I told you to wait for it), virtual and augmented reality have replaced the human connection so much that they live in a sterile and “clean” world.

I hope that sci-fi prediction does not become reality.

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3D, Virtual and Augmented Reality

When I hear 3D, and augmented reality, I think of video games like Call of Duty and mobile games like Pokemon Go.

We live in exciting times, and scary times. Technology and innovation have never been more cutting edge. Who would have thought human kind would be living in artificial worlds through their video games, mobile games, and for combating mental illness.

When I hear 3D, and augmented reality, I think of video games like Call of Duty and mobile games like Pokemon Go. It was not until recently, with the continuing improvements in wearable VR like the Oculus, did I think a traditional “good” could come from an artificial world. Researchers are using VR to help those with acrophobia (fear of heights), fear of flying and other mental barriers that prevent a person from normal activity. That’s the exciting part. The scary part, is the possible use of virtual reality, 3D and such for reporting stories. It would seem a very few types of stories would benefit from such a technology, perhaps something that is worth bringing the reader intimately into the story environment. Perhaps the opening night at the Metropolitan Opera or Cirque du Soleil. Or perhaps transporting viewers to the current civil war going on in Syria. This is where I think some guidelines will eventually have to be set in place for journalists and content creators.

With enough patience and computer processing power, anyone can make a virtual world of reality or fantasy. The question becomes what is the context and for what purpose.

The very intimacy artificial reality, both virtual and augmented, even 360 video can bring traumatic events front and center causing the viewer to feel anxiety, stress and even triggering a response that may be detrimental.

The Automation of Media

One technology that often gets overlooked when talk about emergent technology occurs, is automation in the media. We first saw this happen to the radio industry in the late 1980s where radio stations were able to program music using software such as ENCO. This allowed smaller radio stations to stay within their limited budgets and not have to hire on-air talent. Of course, once automation was proven to work, it lead to wide spread use in all radio markets and resulted in eliminating the radio DJ or personality that introduced songs, segments and riffed about anything under the sun.

Once radio became automated, the technology became advanced enough that television stations were able to be automated. First, running commercials became automated, then it began encroaching on live productions like newscasts. The late 1990s-early aughts, brought the introduction of Parkervision, the first television automation system that also came with serious bugs. Parkervision was then eventually purchased by broadcasting equipment giant Grass Valley and much development went into making automation smoother and intuitive. The benefit of course was allowing smaller market television news stations the ability to provide higher production value without adding more manpower and staying within their shrinking budgets.

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KEYT HD upgrade by Utter Associates      Photo copyright: Utterassociates.com

As with all automation, the improvements in the interface, software and device communication resulted in the reduction of staff from medium markets all the way to the top 5 markets of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas-Forth Worth. Control rooms that used to require 12-15 people in order to put out a fast, high-production value live broadcast were now reduced to 2 people. Directors no longer directed a show for camera shots, pacing or continuity but instead had to code  shows within computer software parameters. “Directing” was reduced to hitting a space bar to get to the next event (story) and creativity was replaced by computers.

Innovation Is In the Air

So I’m two semesters away from getting my master’s degree in journalism innovation from Newhouse and this semester we are getting into the “innovation” part of journalism. It’s pretty narly, because to me it’s like every sci-fi movie has come true or will be coming true.

Now I’m not talking about all the Star Trek stuff like the communicator (cell phones), the PADD (iPad) or the replicator (3D printers). To me the most innovative thing is still on the horizon but getting closer to mainstream use—the Air Touch technology —currently made possible by a Taiwanese company. The possibilities are endless for what this technology will be able to do. One in particular, is how it can change and help journalists in the field, whether in a conflict zone or at a natural disaster. Air Touch could help EMT and other emergency responder organizations as well.  The question is how reliable the technology would be in those areas and how it’s connected (satellite vs. terrestrial towers).

WordPress, How I love thee…?

I dipped my toe in to the new world of blogging back in 2005, with Blogspot, aka Blogger. I never understood what seemed to be the confessional aspect of blogging. Who would be interested in anything I thought or said, what makes me an expert anyway? blogging-out-loud

So you can imagine my first blog was pretty pathetic, I barely posted, I put no effort into my page and truthfully, I don’t even know if it’s still around. I think my first post was about getting diagnosed a second time with breast cancer so not exactly viral material.

Then in 2012, a college classmate of mine introduced me to WordPress. We were efforting a grassroots campaign to get the word out about some issues affecting college students. The effort was a bust, but needless to say I was amazed at where blogging had gone. I started to notice legit websites were actually hosted by blog sites like WordPress, WIX, or any other number of blog outlets. They looked so good, as if that company was paying a staff of paid employees to code and build the back and front end to their specifications. I also started to notice major news outlets using bloggers on the air on topics such as foeirgn policy or education as if they were experts in the traditional sense. Sarah Palin was discovered by a blogger.

But within a few months of being sworn in she [Palin] and others in her circle noticed that a blogger named Adam Brickley had started a movement to draft her as Vice-President.

Although my friend and I’s effort in our grassroots campaign was a bust, our overall effect was connecting with many people we had not connected with in a very long time, it was evident how useful a blog or website could be.

_TOONBLGWordPress in particular is a great look. It’s easy on the eyes which is key given you want as many eyes reading your blog without those eyeballs getting tired or strained. The level of customization available for a free account is quite vast, which is smart because one could easily get hooked and want to increase their visibility and engagement by purchasing one of the packages WordPress provides for hosting, sharing and content management. As evident in its current iteration, WordPress is available for small blogs all the way to major companies using WordPress as their website. The cons for WordPress seem limited, perhaps being an open source operation would be a deterrent to some big companies from using WordPress as their CMS but for the entrepreneur, WordPress would be an important tool in marketing and making a brand— or voice — available to a wide audience. The challenge then becomes sifting through all the mis-information and fluff to get to the meat and potatoes of a brand, story or event.

FCC: ISPs To Respect Privacy

info protectionData mining. Persuasive messages. Unique clicks. Monetizing the internet.

These were all topics that we discussed in my most recent class about digital convergence, media and how the landscape of media has changed. It was a very interesting discussion, mostly because I got to hear what younger “millennial” types thought about privacy or the lack there of and what kind of information they were okay with giving up. Then we were asked what would we pay for on the internet? This stumped me, I have to admit, because I don’t think there really is anything for which I would pay the internet directly. I guess the closest thing for me is Netflix.wheeler

 

Today on NPR’s All Things Tech I caught an interview with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. The interview was about a proposal Wheeler will formally be making March 31 about privacy. This however, is different than the usual discussions of privacy issues that crop up around the internet.

The only thing between you and the internet is your internet service provider (ISP). These providers have a wealth of data and micro data that they collect from their customers and then turnaround and sell to brokers and marketers and credit reporting agencies. This is information that they not only get from their customers when they sign up for service, but also information that they continue to get from the online activities of their customers. What customers search for, what apps they download, what locations a customer visits. Chairman Wheeler is proposing two things: that consumers be able to decide how much their information is worth and how that worth should be reflected in what an ISP charges for it’s service; that ISPs be required to report any breach of data to it’s customers, and that any breach affecting 5,000 or more customers must be reported to the FBI.

Now that is something I would pay for. Being able to control my information, after all it is mine, isn’t it? Better yet, you want my information? Here, now give me free internet.

A Spotlight on Convergence

I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately, I saw Spotlight recently. The Best Picture Oscar winner is about the investigative arm of the Boston Globe, named Spotlight, and how that team uncovered the massive child abuse and molestation scandal within the Archdiocese of Catholic Boston. Spotlight doesn’t just do an excellent job of portraying journalism at the turn of the 21st century, it also does an excellent job conveying the soon-to-be power of the internet and eventual convergence that will occur between old and new media.

My nostalgia came in watching the early aughts portrayed in hairstyles and clothing, printing presses, flip cell phones and pen to paper. The tone of the movie had a focus and intensity that is very often lacking in current movies, shows and in our current culture. There is a scene in the movie where the team is talking about the final story going to print, how there is more information than there is space in the paper. The decision is made to include a url on the “world wide web” at the end of the article where readers can go for more information. They also list a phone number for victims to call. This scene in particular is fantastic in its subtle nod to the cusp of digital convergence as we now know it. It also made me think—again— just how many directions into which our attention is being pulled today.

Spotlight chronicles and portrays living in the world of Web 1.0, where information on the internet was a one-way street, a place to get information and leave. Today we live in the world of Web 2.0, where the internet graduated to a two-way street; sharing information and receiving feedback on that information. There is now so much information pulling at the eyeballs of every user via data mining gathered from Facebook likes, searches, cookies and now from “super” cookies. Thinking about this, I could not help ask myself, “Would a story like this have been able to come out in such detail today?” The Spotlight team and their editors took time to develop and research the story, protecting themselves and the victims from retaliation from the Church. Would that kind of care be possible in today’s media landscape?

Additionally, this time period in which Spotlight takes place, is also the beginning of the corporate take overs of many media outlets—AOL/TimerWarner merger, and Disney/ESPN were the two big ones, but for the most part there was, at that time, still some independence in media ownership.

And that, is what I was nostalgic for. In taking a moment to turn away from the show that is our current election season and taking a moment to turn off my electronics, I was able to focus. Focus on a movie that looked back at a time when we were really able to focus…intensely, able to engross ourselves in specific content and focus on learning about an issue. That is something worth remembering to do.