ONA Weekly #366: Four Ethics Questions To Guide Augmented Reality Projects

By on June 30, 2021

person wearing VR headset in front of a wall

Four ethics questions to guide augmented reality projects

When the world locked down, people sought escape through technology. At the beginning of 2021, the Wall Street Journal reported that the pandemic led to increased adoption of augmented reality (AR) and that the jump in demand is projected to last for the next five years. French cosmetics brands are using AR. Mercedes-Benz is using AR. And journalism outlets are using it more too. USA Today ramped up immersive storytelling last year.

In September 2020, the New York Times and Facebook signed a multi-year deal to co-develop AR tools for Instagram. Though the Times has experimented with AR in the past, this marked the first time the technology was solely created for social platforms. The publication has already created AR to accompany stories on air pollution and mask-wearing.

As AR and immersive storytelling become more widespread, they bring their own host of ethical issues. For example, the psychological impacts of AR are still being discovered and capture techniques also require more editing and post-production, which could create biased experiences. 

Mia Tramz, Brooke Van Dam, Jeremy Gilbert and Steven Johnson had an in-depth conversation about ethics in immersive technology at ONA19. They suggest doing an “ethical scan” of four key areas to think about before building any AR project:

  • Privacy: For example, when you’re creating an AR experience that features buildings, are you including people’s houses? Do they want their house included in an AR experience? Make sure to keep legality in mind, especially when using drone footage.
  • Ownership: Who owns these images? Does a news org own the replication of a building? If the news org gets sold or if the building gets sold, who owns the AR experience? 
  • Representation: People are being taken out of the circumstances they’re in and being put into a completely different space. How do you represent that space faithfully and what does it look like?
  • Diversity: Just as with traditional journalism, the biases of the creators matter. Who are the creators? Who is the audience? Whose gaze is being assumed and what details might the creator miss or not be culturally sensitive to? 

Dig deeper: A Guide to Immersive Ethics (2020)
Takeaways: This detailed guide, developed through our Journalism 360 program, includes  four case studies and covers everything from how much to tweak in post-production to the use of illustrations in AR.

We’re always on the lookout for helpful resources and tips. If you have other examples to share, please reply directly to this email.

Watch ONA21 sessions on-demand

ONA21 logo

Missed the conference last week? It’s not too late to take part in the experience. Register for ONA21 to access on-demand recordings of 50+ learning sessions for audience professionals, people working on digital design and strategy, product managers and strategy and culture leaders.

Take a look at the schedule to see all of the offerings. These include the exclusive fireside chat with Kevin Merida of LA Times and Versha Sharma of Teen Vogue, the 14th annual Tech Trends keynote and popular sessions on growing newsletters, source diversity and personalized paywalls


Survey on Media and Values

How are our intuitions linked to media values? Can our moral judgments shape better digital media policy? Spend 30 minutes to participate in our study HERE, and help us find out!

Questions? Contact Dr. Patrick Lee Plaisance: plp22@psu.edu

Learn to forecast news trends with Amy Webb


The global pandemic continues to underscore the need for news organizations to better understand uncertainty, evaluate multiple possibilities and build narratives for 10- to 20-year vision setting. To that end, Amy Webb and her Future Today Institute is bringing her big, annual “Tech Trends” conference presentation to the scale of a more personal, small-group workshop.

These workshops, open to our global community, offer the opportunity for anyone to become a forecasting specialist for your organization. Journalists using futurist techniques can take active roles in risk evaluation and priority setting by analyzing how technology may affect news organizations and the communities they work with.

ONA will run three limited-availability workshops on July 12, Aug. 9 and Sept.13. These 90-minute workshop cost $99 each and include a toolkit to help spot emerging trends. Slots are limited to 25 attendees for each session, with early access to ONA members and now to be filled first-come, first-served.

Save the dates: ONA Insights on Oct. 14-15 in Philadelphia

The next edition of the ONA Insights conference—and our first in-person programming since 2020—will take place Oct. 14-15 in Philadelphia, PA.

Come join us to explore how journalism organizations are reimagining their approaches to audience development, product and work culture while planning for 2022. Plus, we’ll come together to celebrate the finalists and winners of the 2021 Online Journalism Awards.

And yes, we are absolutely taking advantage of the format. We’re planning hands-on workshops, Table Talks and other interactive learning formats, so this conference will be a great fit for participants excited to learn and collaborate in person.

Express your interest in contributing to ONA Insights to be first to know about the next update.

ICYMI: ONA in the news

As vaccination rates increase in the U.S., publishers are debating the future of events. When is it safe to gather in person? How do we keep the advantages of virtual events? Is hybrid the way to go? Mark Glaser explored this question in an article for Trust, Media and Democracy, highlighting our all-virtual ONA21 conference last week. In addition, ONA Chief Knowledge Officer Trevor Knoblich discussed the future of virtual events with Nieman Lab’s Hanaa’ Tameez.

Stat of the week

Worldwide, trust in news is growing. According to the 2021 Reuters Digital News Report, 44% of the sample (of six continents and 46 markets) said they trust news most of the time, reversing recent falls in average trust and bringing levels back to those of 2018. In the Reuters survey, Finland remains the country with the highest levels of overall trust (65%) and the USA now has the lowest levels (29%).

Important dates

Career opportunities

ONA’s Career Center is an excellent resource for jobs, fellowships and internships in digital journalism. Recent postings include:

On our radar

The radar is now open for suggestions. Have you written or read a piece lately that would benefit others in journalism? We’re interested in sharing insights on trends, how-to guides, lessons from a project and other inspiration for innovation in digital journalism.

Join as an ONA member or make a donation to help sustain ONA’s mission to inspire and support innovation in digital journalism. If you’re looking to promote an event, product, job opening or other opportunity, explore options to reach the ONA community.

We also rely on philanthropic and corporate support. Contact Chief Strategic Partnerships Officer Jessica Strelitz at jessica@journalists.org to learn about the many ways to invest in our mission.