Last spring, I gave a presentation at SPJ’s Region 1 Conference in which I argued that virtual reality is going to be even more disruptive than the Internet was (see the slides here).

I also said that we’re seeing the birth of a new medium, immersive storytelling, and that we, as journalists, are mostly missing the big story since this medium, in the nascent form of video games, already dwarfs the movie, music, and book industries.

But when audience members asked me about how virtual reality was going to transform journalism itself, I hedged my bets. It might take a while, I said. The applications aren’t quite clear yet. I imagined a virtual version of Oprah delivering personalized news and insight to us, face-to-face, in a Matrix-like video game environment. This combination of artificial intelligence, synthetic actors, and virtual platforms would dramatically reduce the number of journalism jobs.

But I couldn’t quite imagine what kind of higher-level jobs would evolve to replace the routine work that is fated to disappear.

Fortunately, other people have proven to be more imaginative, and the first applications of immersive storytelling, of using virtual reality to do journalism, are already here. Today, Kate Abrosimova, one of my freelance writers at Hypergrid Business, posted a story titled Virtual reality breathes live into immersive storytelling in which she profiles a journalist, Nonny de la Peña, who uses virtual reality to put her audience right into the center of events. Project Syria, one such virtual reality experience, will be premiering at Sundance later on this month. And it’s just one of several such projects.

I still remember the days when “online journalism” and “computer-assisted reporting” was a new and separate thing. Today, it would be difficult to find journalists anywhere on the planet who don’t use connected devices, email, and the Web. But back in the early days of dial-up modems and online bulletin boards, how many of us could have predicted how pervasive the Internet would become?

Still from Project Syria. (Image courtesy Sundance Institute.)
Still from Project Syria. (Image courtesy Sundance Institute.)

What’s your take? Are you following the hype about virtual reality? Do you see it transforming the way you do journalism?