This is why, as part of fellowship, I have been focusing on a tool to fix this challenge. Ultimately, the goal of this tool is to provide evidence-based best practices for immersive storytelling by putting the audience at the center of the production process.
Creators could submit content to a sample of users of their choosing (either directly or remotely), collect data on their reactions and behaviors, and amend the content based on findings presented in clear, actionable reports.
Think usability testing, but tailored and streamlined for 360 video and VR content. While each report will be private, a public database of lessons and best practices for immersive storytelling may eventually be established, benefitting the entire industry.
I was encouraged by a November 2018 report written by Julie Posetti, who leads the RISJ’s Journalism Innovation Project. One of its conclusions is that media organizations should aim for innovative strategies “that start with, and focus clearly on, the needs and behaviors of ‘end users’”, ‘end users’ here being the audience. In the same report, Temple University’s Journalism Innovation Chair Aron Pilhofer laments what he calls ‘the tummy compass,’ noting that journalism is “by nature a very instinct-driven profession and fighting that is hard.” And a few pages later, Sasha Koren, a former editor for the Guardian’s Mobile Innovation Lab, recommends that “you need to look to your audience for signals of where you can do better.”
Similarly, in my RJI project, I want to make it easier to learn what audiences perceive, like and want, so we can stop relying on gut feelings and unstable data to inform our editorial decisions.
I have conducted over 15 in-depth interviews with immersive journalists, content creators, CEOs and educators (if they are reading this: hi, and thank you again!), nine men and seven women hailing from five countries on three continents. These discussions, as well as additional reading and the great team at the Information Experience Lab of the University of Missouri have helped me develop a short survey for industry members. Take the survey to support this project; your input will be key for the rest of my fellowship and how this tool takes shape.