XR Journalism

By Marcus on 14. März 2018 — 8 mins read

Let’s coin a new phrase. Because it is needed and might prove useful in the decade to come.

If you want to get pumped up with the latest buzzwords you can go to Austin, Texas once a year. There is a gazillion of panels at SxSW with all kinds of ideas, disruption, future talk etc. The future will of course prove to be (a bit) different but it needs invention and imagination in the first place.

I compiled some news snippets from this years SxSW that perfectly sum up and let me to believe that we should start talking more about XR Journalism in 2018 – instead of always listing VR, AR, MR or adding various adjectives like immersive or spatial or whatever in front of journalism. And of course we should not focus on the talking but on the doing, inventing, evaluating and re-doing. We means: journalists of all trades, interested in shaping the near future media landscape in meaningful ways.

The expression XR Journalism can not be found on the entire sxsw-website, it is not really yet used on twitter besides by my colleague Stephan who reserved the twitter handle while we were talking lately.

So why do we need to talk about this thing called XR Journalism and what the heck does the X mean anyhow?!

There is another technological shift in the making. Amy Webb´s (Future Today Institute) very first key finding while listing 235 Emerging Tech Trends For 2018 goes like this:

2018 marks the beginning of the end of traditional smartphones. During the next decade, we will start to transition to the next era of computing and connected devices, which we will wear and will command using our voices, gesture and touch. The transition from smartphones to smart wearables and invisible interfaces — earbuds that have biometric sensors and speakers; rings and bracelets that sense motion; smart glasses that record and display information — will forever change how we experience the physical world. This doesn’t necessarily signal a post-screen existence. We anticipate foldable and scrollable screens for portable, longer-form reading and writing.

If you start digging deeper into the world of actual AR glasses or prototypes you get the idea. They look „normal“ like the Vaunt, they make use of voice and sound like Bose AR and they will make actual AR apps limited to the screen size of a smartphone way more useful.

Okay, now let us talk about XR.

You might have heard about VR (virtual reality) or AR (augmented reality) and MR for mixed reality – In 1994 Paul Milgram and Fumio Kishino defined a mixed reality as „…anywhere between the extrema of the virtuality continuum“,where the virtuality continuum extends from the completely real through to the completely virtual environment with augmented reality and augmented virtuality ranging between. So why do we need another term?

A new term

To bet that one specific point on the continuum will “win” is a rather narrow vision of what the future may look like. To believe in XR — that a fundamental shift is occurring in the way people view, share, create and use media data — is far less risky. (*)

  • XR is a far-reaching, inclusive, and flexible term
  • The X represents a variable that is not fully known or specified,  suggesting an open ecosystem

I especially like the cross-reference to James Bridle´s concept of a New Aesthetic and to Deleuze´s concept of virtuality in the XR wikipedia article:

XR can be viewed as a manifestation of „The New Aesthetic“, the term coined by James Bridle that references „the increasing appearance of the visual language of digital technology and the Internet in the physical world, and the blending of virtual and physical„. Closely related to Gilles Deleuze’s concept of virtuality, XR positions „virtual“ as not opposed to „real“. Within the framework of XR, virtuality is not the opposite of reality and digital is not the opposite of biological. Rather, XR envisions a more complex relationship in which virtuality actualizes real effects to the extent that our perception of virtual objects becomes fully real.

XR technologies have applications in almost every industry
, such as: architecture, automotive industry, sports training, real estate, mental health, medicine, health care, retail, space travel, design, engineering, interior design, television and film, media, advertising, marketing, libraries, education, news, music, and travel.

So, what about Journalism then?

Journalism is the production and the distribution of reports on recent events. The word journalism applies to the occupation (professional or not), the methods of gathering information, and the organizing literary styles. The role and status of journalism, along with that of the mass media, has undergone changes over the last two decades, together with the advancement of digital technology and publication of news on the Internet.

During the last ten years we could see and feel the development of data driven mobile optimized visual journalism. For instance check out:  How the BBC and the Guardian tell stories on mobile.

Going back to Amy Webb: During the next decade, we will start to transition to the next era of computing and connected devices, which we will wear and will command using our voices, gesture and touch.

So obviously there is a new challenge. Some panels during this years SxSW were tackling the topic. Check out @Webjournalist´s Etherpad listing:

Even in its infancy augmented and mixed Reality tools and techniques have the potential to radically reshape the news business. Deeply immersive stories can be made more interactive and compelling with AR techniques and tools. But in the near future, contextually relevant news — determined by time and location — will be delivered by AR/MR on new hardware systems that seamlessly blend virtual and physical worlds.

The AR/MR revolution – i´d rather say XR Journalism – will change news delivery and consumption. And I would further argue that it will change way more – like the role of journalists and the topics covered or should I say the services provided by future journalists in an ever changing infrastructure and a changing news paradigm.

These are early days and I strongly recommend to check out the very first examples of AR journalism listed here. You can directly download them and make use of them on your mobile phone. More about AR journalism on my twitter account ARJournalismus.

Three things you can do right now to prepare for the near future XR Journalism wave

These are early days. To better understand, predict, plan and make the future here are three the things that you can do right now:

Look at the world and tell me about it Benedict Evans

First of all, watch this talk by Benedict Evans: 10 Year Futures (vs. What’s Happening Now). Benedict not only sets things straight by arguing that the future is always boring until we get there, he categorizes and distinguishes two different scenarios when making use of AR, MR or XR.

1) Add something to the world – basically this is what current applications in the context of journalism do. You might want to ask yourself why you need to augmented Olympic events on the floor while sitting in a cafe.

2) Look at the world and tell me about it – this is where things are heading. Make sure to check out Andrew Hart´s work.

The Stack – our accidental megastructure

Apart from that it is crucial to get a better understanding of the world that surrounds us and the technical implications or layers we inhabit. I recommend to make yourself familiar with Benjamin Bratton´s book The Stack:

In The Stack, Benjamin Bratton proposes that different genres of computation—smart grids, cloud platforms, mobile apps, smart cities, the Internet of Things, automation—can be seen not as so many species evolving on their own, but as forming a coherent whole: an accidental megastructure called The Stack that is both a computational apparatus and a new governing architecture.

In an account that is both theoretical and technical, drawing on political philosophy, architectural theory, and software studies, Bratton explores six layers of The Stack: Earth, Cloud, City, Address, Interface, User. The Stack is an interdisciplinary design brief for a new geopolitics that works with and for planetary-scale computation. It shows how we can better build, dwell within, communicate with, and govern our worlds.

You can only begin to implement fruitful XR applications in the contect of journalism when you understand the bigger picture. I recommend to digg deeper into the concept of Vision Driven Design Research.

A Media Archeology Approach  and Emerging Media

Last not least it is a good idea to dive into academia a bit to get a better understanding of changes in the historical context. I think that Rebecca Rouse is doing a good job here with articles like:

Rouse, R. (2016) „Media of Attraction: A Media Archeology Approach to Panoramas, Kinematography, Mixed Reality and Beyond.“ Eds. F. Nack and A. S. Gordon. Interactive Storytelling: Lecture Notes in Computer Science 10045, Springer Press International. pp. 97-107.

Rouse, R., Barba, E. (2017) „Design for Emerging Media: How MR Designers Think about Storytelling, Process, and Defining the Field.“ Interactive Storytelling: Lecture Notes in Computer Science, Springer Press International. Forthcoming November 2017.


We might not (only) use smartphones for news consumption in the near future anymore but glasses and wearables. There is  already happening a lot of stuff  in the field of VR, AR and MR journalism. While we are still in the early days I propose to make use of the term XR Journalism instead of all these abbreviations. It better frames and channels and helps when designing experiences for emerging media to come.