NAB 2018: Google News, Journalism 360 on Immersive Media

Google News Lab works with journalists and entrepreneurs around the world to drive innovation in the news industry, explained training/development manager Nicholas Whitaker. Established three years ago, the worldwide team focuses on trust and misinformation, local news, inclusive journalism, and emerging technologies. “Building a more informed world will require news organizations and technology companies to work together,” said Whitaker, in an NAB session that revealed some of the work being done.

The newly announced Google News Initiative helps newsrooms leverage new technologies to improve efficiencies and effectiveness of reporting, said Whitaker. He introduced Journalism 360 director Laura Hertzfeld, whose group — supported by the Knight Foundation, Online News Association and Google News Lab — is engaged in such projects.

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“Journalism 360 launched one-and-a-half years ago,” said Hertzfeld. “The goal was to bring together thought leaders in the space and funding to immersive storytelling, which we define broadly, from AR to AI.”

Hertzfeld enthused that the different technologies are “coming together,” from room-scale VR to 360 video and photogrammetry. “Price point and speed are the two big things that have changed,” she said. “A lot of these projects don’t start with huge budgets, so now, yes, the smaller news organizations can get in.”

Whitaker noted that it is, “more about cobbling together the resources you have.” “And finding the right people to partner with,” added Hertzfeld, who reported that her group has a Facebook page where producers can get advice and find people to work on projects. “Journalism can be competitive but new media is very open and community-oriented.”

Among the projects Journalism 360 has been involved in recently is one from USA Today that explores the proposed border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. “It was a comprehensive project,” she said. “There were some short-form documentaries and a podcast. It was big scale but broken down into small pieces. We wanted to do something in VR but also incorporate those who read the print newspaper.”

Not yet launched is a project from The Washington Post on “Facing Bias.” Partnering with Ohio State University and UC Irvine, Journalism 360 created an AR prototype to analyze readers’ faces while looking at a news story to determine bias, using computer vision. “The goal of the project is informing our readers on how their minds work in a way that will make that information personal and transformative,” she said.

For CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, the group helped build a program for smaller news media, where English isn’t the first language, to produce 360 videos. Journalism 360 helped New Cave Media in the Ukraine in its photorealistic location-based immersive storytelling that used photogrammetry to recreate an entire street where the uprising happened in 2014. And it also awarded a grant to Voxhop, the brainchild of the MIT Media Lab grad Ainsley Sutherland, which is a tool that would allow journalists to “upload, generate or construct a 3D environment and narrate the scene from multiple perspectives.”