What is the metaverse and how does it apply to journalism? That was the burning question during a Jamfest Africa 2022 session on exploring news stories inside the metaverse.

“The concept of the metaverse is still new even though we have had virtual reality technologies for many years, and the audience in Africa is quite peculiar especially when it comes to digital literacy and access to the internet, despite these challenges, there is a prospect and a need to invest in these new technologies,” said panelist Kunle Adebajo, investigations editor at HumAngle Media in Nigeria.

Adebajo was joined by Laura Hertzfeld, storytelling innovation consultant and former director of Yahoo XR Partner Programme, Tulanana Bohela, co-founder of OnaStories, Princely Glorious, director of strategy and co-founder of OnaStories, and Emmanuel Agbeko Gamor, president of Unpacking Africa 4.0, who moderated the discussion.

Experiencing the metaverse is often described as having a presence in another internet world and the gateway into the metaverse is through immersive technologies available in XR (extended reality), VR (virtual reality), and AR (augmented reality). What was initially thought to be technology for the next generation of journalists and media makers, might be the technology of the present day. This means that news and stories won’t only be read but can also be virtually experienced in the metaverse.

Many journalists and visual artists have already begun experimenting with immersive storytelling forms through long-form photojournalistic pieces or 3D visualisations which allow readers to interact with data or scenes. More mass-market examples are the use of Snapchat AR filters, cost-effective google cardboards, and soon the Apple VR glasses due to be released in 2023. As a result, the media landscape on a global scale is becoming more interactive, experiential and no longer one-directional. The metaverse’s anticipated impact on Africa specifically requires media makers and newsrooms to prepare for the metaverse horizon as it becomes more accessible.

According to Adebajo these are the benefits of using the metaverse for journalism:

  • It takes immersive storytelling to a whole new level
  • It can incorporate images, videos, sounds and 3D objects
  • It has potential for monetisation
  • It offers a potential new audience pool

Hertzfeld said the metaverse needs to be seen as a different platform to tell stories in new ways, but there are key questions that need journalists and media practitioners need to ask themselves, firstly where is your audience and what is the best place to engage them for particular stories?

Why newsrooms should consider Extended Reality (XR):

  • To engage readers so they consume more content, leading to greater time spent and increased revenue
  • To create opportunities for sponsored content and advertising integration
  • To help producers stay on top of new technology and prepare for the future

According to Hertzfeld, this is what makes a story immersive:

  • technology: new ways of experiencing content that incorporates 3D, AR/VR, headset technology
  • art: bringing artists’ and photographer’s work into the storytelling process to focus on the feel of a piece as much as the reporting
  • physical space: opportunities that bring stories into theatre experiences, public venues or galleries

“Regardless of platform or tools, a story remains a story, these platforms, tools and technologies: all of these are constraints but within these constraints that’s where you find the freedom to tell stories,” said Glorious. “As a storyteller, the things that matter to you in the metaverse are the same things that matter to you outside the metaverse,” said Glorious.

As a newsroom or publication, you remain audience-led despite using the metaverse. The fundamentals of storytelling remain the same in the metaverse, said Glorious.

Opportunities that the metaverse offers for journalism: The three C’s 

  • Building digital communities
  • Commerce: different business models
  • Co-create experiences: the audience is part of the story and an active participant in a story

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Watch the full discussion here




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