Newspaper Creates 'Virtual Farm' for Internet News Stories

Newspaper Creates 'Virtual Farm' for Internet News Stories

The Des Moines Register has taken a step into the future by creating an Internet-based virtual world to accompany a new series of stories.

In a journalism first, the virtual world created by the Gannett news service gives readers an interactive experience of an Iowa farm. This trip into virtual reality was created specially for the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

The paper is calling the project the “Harvest of Change” and will show readers a farm run by four generations of the same family.

The paper created an introductory video to explain its series of stories about how farming is changing in America today.

“The idea was to pick a single subject that could illustrate the tensions wrought on the heartland by climate change, immigration, genetically modified crops, rural depopulation, and general economic uncertainty,” Joshua Brustein writes for Bloomberg in his review of the experience.

Brustein says that the virtual farm is not immersive in that a viewer will be able to walk around on the farm but won’t interact with the farmers or workers. Instead, viewers will find recorded movies that inform them abut parts of the farm.

The Bloomberg writer said that Harvest of Change creates “an environment that wouldn’t be as convincing without the 360-degree views and interactivity of virtual reality. But when it comes to telling a story, it falls back on classic video journalism.”

Brustein pronounces the virtual farm a good first effort in virtual journalism and says that as the technology improves, the way stories are told will eventually morph into their own, new way of communicating.

The Oculus VR headsets aren’t yet available to the public, so the paper is hosting its introduction of the virtual farm at the Online News Association’s conference in Chicago.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at igcolonel@hotmail.com.


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