Journalism’s New Dimension
Although augmented reality (AR) is still in its infancy, some of the most prestigious news organizations are already exploring ways to use the technology in storytelling.
With AR, the screen of your iOS device becomes a window into a world where digitally rendered objects appear in the environment around you. The tech doesn’t require special glasses or accessories; all you need is a recent iPhone or iPad running iOS 11.
“Augmented reality is a better way to visually understand information and news at all levels,” says Joey Marburger, director of product at The Washington Post.
To many in the industry, AR’s potential is huge. “There is no question that augmented reality is the next giant step for visual storytelling,” says Mario Garcia, a Columbia Journalism School professor who specializes in multimedia. “We will be engaging with news stories—from natural disasters to accidents to public protests to features, especially food, travel, health, and fitness.”
Here, a few pioneering examples of this new dimension.
The Wall Street Journal
The venerable newspaper, founded in 1889, is one of the few publications using AR to provide real-time data: a live 3D model of the stock market’s biggest companies.
At first, this futuristic take on the stock listings looks like a city block packed with skyscrapers. Each publicly traded U.S. company with a market capitalization over $1 billion appears as a column. The height of that column fluctuates based on the percentage change in the company’s stock price. The green columns shooting upward are the winners; the red ones extending downward, the losers.
Because data is continually updated, looking at this citylike landscape from afar can give you a sense of the market as a whole. You can also check a certain sector (consumer, tech, financial, etc.), since companies are grouped by category. For more insight, zoom in until you’re essentially standing among the towering bars of this 3D model. Tapping a specific company brings up its current stock price and related news stories.
The WSJ's other AR feature shoots for the stars. In “Cassini’s Last Dance With Saturn,” you can learn about the NASA satellite’s 13-year voyage to explore Saturn. See the path of Cassini’s orbit in relation to the planet’s moons, or tap in for a close-up look at a rendering of Cassini.
Although access to most articles in the WSJ app require a subscription, you can view the AR features for free. To find them, tap the Sections link at the top left of the app’s home screen, then scroll down to select VR/AR.
The Washington Post
To accompany a story on the David Adjaye–designed National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington, D.C., The Washington Post created a narrated AR tour that demonstrates how the museum was constructed—a challenging undertaking, since about 60 percent of the building’s interior is underground.
The app’s animated AR model shows how trenches were dug, then fortified with concrete pumped in from below to allow the site to be dug out. You’ll see the four interior columns that support the steel framing of the building, and the way the latticed metal corona that encircles the museum is hung from the top.
Animations of the various stages of construction are synced with the narration. Unlike a 2D video, this AR model can be viewed from different angles.
Find this feature in The Washington Post app’s Augmented Reality section by swiping left on the black navigation bar at the top of the screen.
Quartz isn’t like most news apps. Instead of presenting you with a list of stories, it delivers news in chat form, as though you were having a text conversation, complete with bubbles of text, emoji, and GIFs.
AR components pepper these stories. You might stumble upon a highly detailed rendering of the Rosetta Stone (zoom in to check out the hieroglyphics) or a Roland TR-808 drum machine. The ability to manipulate and examine these objects from all angles is an experience a photo gallery just can’t match.