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Virtual Concessions

Now that this long, presidential campaign full of inappropriate comments, accusations and threats is over, I started thinking about the swift about-face that both “establishment” party politicians took. The calm platitudes from the former reality TV star turned President-Elect and then the tasteful, call to unite from the former Secretary of State got me thinking how different it must be for journalists covering the candidates, they would see these two people “off the air” while traveling, while interacting with staff and voters.

What if 360 cameras were taken on the airplanes of the presidential candidates to show what goes on while in transit? Viewers could see how reporters cover a campaign and how candidates interact with those reporters. This could be the new way of getting to know a candidate running for office, not just the edited and prepared candidate that we get now.

An opportunity for a virtual reality story could be following the election, when the President-Elect meets with the President to talk about the role. Imagine being able to virtually be present in the Oval Office as the two men, address the press and answer questions about how their meeting went. Another one, virtual reality of the political rallies each candidate has in every state during the campaign. What better way to show the true climate of a rally or see how many people are in attendance or what the energy felt like at these rallies.

One thing is for sure, it may help show the true climate of an election and be a more accurate predictor than traditional polling or focus groups.

Reality Capture: The New Camera Phone

Reality capture technology is has come quite a long way from what we know from movies like Avatar, Lord of the Rings and King Kong.

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Avatar (2009) Image: imdb.com
Film Title: King Kong.
King King (2005) Image: imdb.com

Nowadays there are 3D capture applications that are available for your smartphone, that allow anyone to capture an object in 3D. There even more apps that are now available for download that will take that 3D file and animate it. It’s amazing times when it comes to technology.

Often we cheer the innovation of such technology and how cutting edge or beneficial it is for sharing information, telling stories or providing a unique experience. What about the long term ramifications? When it comes to gaming,

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Kit Harrington from HBO’s Games of Thrones is featured in latest video game, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (Release date November 4, 2016).

3D and virtual reality is the name of the game. But what about everyday life? What about allowing anyone the ability to capture video for 3D. The question becomes about privacy and the ownership of a person’s likeness. Much like when cameras started appearing on cellphones, the issue of a person being photographed without their knowledge became an ethical discussion. Now, with easy access to 3D and virtual reality apps and software the same concern is appearing again. What if someone mistakenly makes a 3D capture of another person available publicly? What happens to that person’s reasonable expectation of privacy? What if that person is a celebrity? Who then has control of their likeness and is there any recourse for inappropriate or illegal use of that likeness?

Not long ago (9 years), one of the television stations I worked at began using digital avatars of their on-air news anchors and meteorologists. Their digital selves were made to walk onto the corner of your computer screen or television set and tell you what the weather forecast would be or notify you of breaking news. Most of the time, though, it was promoting the programming of the station. This new digital presence didn’t last long, because there were some concerns on the part of the on-air personalities of what their likenesses would be used for beyond what they agreed to, and let’s not the forget the basic issue of compensation. How do you compensate a person for their likeness? Royalty fees? What happens when those on-air personalities move on to other networks? How can they know that their digital selves have been deleted?

3D capture and virtual reality are definitely some very fun and creative outlets that can make a huge difference in medicine, education or even specific storytelling. However, unlike cameras on cellphones and the now ubiquitous selfie, treating 3D and virtual capture in the same way would be detrimental and controversial.

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.

3D, Virtual and Augmented Reality

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.