The Meek School of Journalism and New Media

The University of Mississippi

“Wearables” next big thing for journalism

Posted on: September 29th, 2014 by drwenger
Oculus Rift device used to experience Des Moines Register's virtual reality farm tour.

Oculus Rift device used to experience Des Moines Register’s virtual reality farm tour.

When it comes to news gathering, USC’s Robert Hernandez says mobile phones just aren’t fast enough. Hernandez, who says he “hijacks tech for journalism,” is looking to wearables as a catalyst for the next big change in the news business.

“It’s not the device, it’s the content,” said Hernandez. “It’s actually the content optimized for the device. We were slow for mobile, before that it was social media; I’m trying for us to be proactive because this is a new form factor.”

As director of the undergraduate journalism Deb Wenger found out at the Online News Association conference in Chicago, it’s certainly a good time for journalists to be talking about these devices and new content forms with this month’s debut of the Apple Watch and more types of wearables popping up every day.

“I think the wrist wearable is the transition before we get over wearing technology on our face,” said Hernandez.

So, how do you define a wearable? He says it has six attributes.

  • Hands-free
  • Always on
  • Environmentally aware
  • Connected to the Internet
  • Gets attention without disruption
  • Open to third party developers

Hernandez says Google Glass is the “most mature of the wearables,” but points to the Oculus Rift as an indicator of what the future may hold. The system’s virtual reality goggles offer a dual-screen, full immersion experience, making you feel like you are there.

The Des Moines Register is one of the first news organizations to develop a project specifically for the Oculus Rift. According to the Washington Post, the Register’s “Harvest of Change” is an “interactive view of a farm in Iowa that was created to accompany a multi-part series of articles about the changing world of modern farming. In short, it’s what happens when you transform the news experience into a virtual reality gaming experience.”

Changing the experience of newsgathering and news consumption with wearables seems to be focused right now in these two areas:

  • News organizations are using them for new methods of video and image gathering. Wearables can be less obtrusive, creating opportunities for more intimate views of news events. Opportunities for live streaming what the journalist or another witness is seeing may make for dramatic breaking news coverage, as it did when Tim Pool of Vice used Glass to cover events in Ferguson, Missouri.
  • The hands-free aspect of wearables make alternative interview styles easier. They facilitate recording audio or video of an interview subject demonstrating, giving the audience a different point of view. Glass has also been used to document first-person experiences in a unique way, such as Victor Oladipo’s NBA draft day.

On a smaller scale, perhaps, the video translation or real-time mapping features of Glass and other wearables can become more useful to journalists in the field. CNN’s Victor Hernandez also speculates wearables could be the “next-gen IFB for feeding on-air talent information on the fly.”

Robert Hernandez says it’s too easy for journalists and newsrooms to avoid embracing technology trends, hating tech because in the beginning, it’s generally not perfect. But he says the profession will make a mistake if it doesn’t push to see the possibilities of wearable devices.

“We need to not fight this.”