VR and Chatbots


Thanks to Ted Hall for a fascinating – if slightly nauseous – visit to the MIDEN lab.    On the week that Oculus Rift launched, it was great to have a chance to try it out.   The NYT conclusion was that it’s worth waiting before buying, “With about 30 games and a few apps available at Rift’s introduction, there isn’t much to do with the system yet. Oculus will eventually need a larger, more diverse set of content to transcend its initial audience of gamer geeks.”  IMG_8033

The physical after-effects are still an issue, “The Rift has other consequences for the mind and body. I felt mentally drained after 20-minute sessions. My eyes felt strained after half an hour, and over a week I developed a nervous eye twitch.”

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The 23-year old whizzkid who invented Oculus Rift, Palmer Luckey, believes that Virtual Reality will transform communications, and in particular office meetings.  But he told NPR that ethical use of VR in journalism is key,”People understand the limitations of videos, of pictures and of text.  They understand that they’re subjective takes, and they understand that they don’t capture the entire big picture.  With virtual reality, people are naturally inclined to take something they experienced as if it was real, as if it was something that actually happened in the way that they saw it happen…it really induces that sense that you were an eyewitness, first hand, seeing this thing happen.  We’re going to have to be very careful to make sure that we use the technology responsibly in journalism, to make sure that it’s not used to push propaganda or warped depictions of the facts.”

The most darkly symbolic story of the week comes courtesy of Microsoft’s new Artificial Intelligence chatbot, Tay, who was supposed to learn “casual and playful” conversation through talking to tweeters.   Problem is that as the Verge puts it, “Twitter taught Microsoft’s AI chatbot to be a racist asshole in less than a day”, spewing anti-semitic anti-feminist hate speech almost immediately.

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Microsoft pulled Tay down and scrubbed its timeline, apologising that “it had no way of knowing that people would attempt to trick the robot into tweeting the offensive words.”  Earlier, Tay resurfaced and it didn’t go well again.  This time Tay swore “a lot and boasted about smoking weed“, as Mashable put it, or in CNET’s words “has a druggy Twitter meltdown, dozes off again”.   So much for Artificial Intelligence.


Why Isis is Winning the Social Media War (Wired)

How Isis games Twitter (Atlantic)

At Front Lines, Bearing Witness in Real Time (NYT)

360 Degree Video…. Headspinningly Innovative or Just Headspinning?

The Obamas have done Youtube vlogger videos,  Vine Q&As, even Between Two Ferns.   Now First Lady Michelle Obama has done a 360 video interview with the Verge, who describes the project as “incredibly ambitious”.

This was filmed in mid-January , and cements the Obamas status as holding the “First Digital Presidency”, according to the Verge.

The Obamas have set a high social media bar for the next First Family — and they’re not quite done yet.”This platform is so unique,” Mrs. Obama says of the White House. “We will never have it again. So we will spend these twelve months on every issue making sure we’re driving to the very end. We figure we want to drop the mic on some of this stuff.”

Another recent news use is The Telegraph‘s 360 view of the minute of silence in Brussels after the latest attack last Monday, in which at least 30 people were killed.

The BBC, meanwhile, took viewers to somewhere few have ever been…. inside Cern’s Large Hadron Collider in the first entirely 360 degree TV show.    Background info about the shoot here. 

Apparently, 360 degree video is taking the advertising world by storm…. including a flythrough an Oreo cookie.  But what could that mean for the medium?   The Washington Post predicts, 

But that rush into VR ads and 360-degree videos — their less-involved technological cousins — means advertisers will likely define the platform before it hits mainstream audiences, much in the same way pop-up ads shaped the early Web, analysts said. And because the tech is still in its infancy, advertisers see few limits to their ambitions: What, for instance, will product placement look like when entire worlds are up for grabs?

It’s almost exactly a year since the first 360 degree music video was launched.   Here’s a very trippy example.

And finally, a couple of options for the adrenalin junkies among you….what does it feel like to jump from a hot-air balloon using a wingsuit.

And inside the cockpit of a Swiss fighter jet (try the Barrel Roll).

Here’s a nice WSJ summary of the latest developments.


Wednesday’s class will be in the MIDEN lab in the Duderstadt.    There will be bus transport from the Commercial loading dock outside North Quad, on the Washington Street side.

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What’s New? What’s Hot?


The Battle of the Adblockers! 

The French newspaper industry is taking a stand in the Battle of the Adblockers, similar to the moves taken by Forbes.  As the Guardian reports,

The initiative, organised by a trade association representing online businesses, aimed to reverse the growing popularity of software that blocks advertisements that many internet users find annoying, but which provide critical revenue to media websites.  “For our 400 journalists to provide you each day with high-quality, reliable and varied news each day … we must be able to rely on advertising revenue,” read a message from Jerome Fenoglio, the editor-in-chief of French daily Le Monde, to users running adblocker software.

Le Monde shows this message, but allows users to continue.   Others like L’Equipe and Le Parisien require users to disable the ad-blockers.

Social Audio!

WNYC is experimenting with crowdsourced audio, using an app called Anchor, which allows users to record their responses into the app in good sound quality.   It’s so far had a good response, with one user calling it the “audio version of Periscope”.   The app was used by WNYC’s Arun Venugopal to get responses about political correctness.  His post was played more than 2000 times, and has garnered 26 responses so far, according to Nieman Lab. 

The Future of Newspapers! 

The  Independent, is the first British broadsheet to go digital-only, killing off its paper version in the next two weeks.  If this is the future of the press – there’s no other way to put this – it sucks.  Massively.  More than 100 out of 160 journalists will lose their jobs; those who stay on face pay cuts of as much as half their salaries.  And what’s more, they may be asked to work on ads.   There will be some new hires of journalists who span editorial and commercial, violating the “church-state divide” that was one of the guiding tents of journalism.   Digiday reports, 

“Day to day, they’ll write impartial pieces as any other features journalist would. Commercial would not try to influence this. Similarly, they would not be expected to ‘sell’ to brands they’re covering,” [Jon O’Donnell, group commercial director of parent ESI media group, said. “When a brief comes in from client A, they’ll come in and provide some great ideas as to how to win the pitch, possibly see the client in some cases. We win the business, and they go back into editorial and back to the day job. It’s about us having guaranteed commercial resources in key categories for us.”

Journalists have already written commercial features for the title, which are labeled as sponsored. For example, for Coach, the newspaper’s fashion editor Alexander Fury wrote four articles focusing on each fashion week in New York, London, Milan and Paris as each happened, and each article was labeled “in association with” Coach but with Fury’s byline. Over a month, this attracted 95,000 pageviews,and an average dwell time of 3.5 minutes, according to O’Donnell.

Here’s how I feel about this.


1)Harvests of Change (Des Moines Register)

2) How the NYTimes is Sparking the VR Journalism Revolution (Wired) 

3) Virtual Reality News is Coming and the Implications are Ominous (Spectator)

ASSIGNMENT:  Begin work on final projects.  Please make sure you have discussed your subject with me by March 28.    It requires some element of original journalism.

BLOGPOSTS:  There’s a once-off amnesty on late blogposts.  If you are overdue on any, file them by 9pm Thursday 24 March and you’ll get credit.  It’s a one-time-only offer.

How Will Wearables Make News?



The buzz is Snap Glass.  This is what people (well, the Daily Mail) is calling Snapchat’s project, also dubbed the Enterprise Edition, to secretly develop smartspecs similar to Google Glass.   The company has recently been on a hiring spree, picking up employees with experience in augmented reality.   Wareable reports, “Back in 2014, Snapchat purchased Vengeance Labs, a startup that was busy building smart eyewear that’s able to record video of what a wearer sees,” and many of its employees still work at Snapchat.   The potential for newsgathering/privacy violation is unlimited.

Other possible devices with news applications:  the wearable drone.   Really.  For the ultimate selfie.  This model, the Nixie, is a finalist in Intel’s Make it Wearable competition.

This rundown in the Huffpo also outlines the possibility of wearable biometric strips-plus-cameras, which could wirelessly transmit real-time heart rate and other performance data to sports fans, which are also under development by First V1sion.

An enterprising news editor might find an application for such wearable tech beyond just sports. Imagine a reporter in the middle of some energetic public demonstration or even a military battle beaming the whole heart-pounding, personal experience back to the newsroom’s audience as it happens.


  1. The end of Big (media).: When News Orgs Move from Brands to Platforms for Talent (Nieman)   

2. Risks of Personal Brand Journalism (CJR)

BLOGPOST ASSIGNMENT:   Profile one person who is prominent in your field – possibly a citizen journalist, but could be anyone – with extra credit if you actually interview them.   Feel free to experiment with format, so you could write a traditional blogpost, or use an email interview, twitter, storyful, an audio interview or a video interview.  (For March 23 class)

The 20-somethings Driving Viral Political Coverage



There was a fun piece on NPR about the four twenty-somethings who run Buzzfeed’s political research unit, who outed Hillary Clinton’s error in claiming to have four immigrant grandparents (she had only one) and dug up Donald Trump’s change of heart on Iraq.  As the article says,

BuzzFeed has grown past its roots as a viral site focused on lists and GIFs, and has earned credibility among more traditional journalists with some strong reporting from the campaign trail. Now BuzzFeed is offering a new multimedia form of accountability journalism: repeatedly revealing the candidates’ contradictions, hypocrisies, misstatements — and, at times, flat-out weirdness.

Here are some recent pieces that they’ve done, showing how –  like the rest of the media – they’re on Trumpwatch.


In this FT article, Buzzfeed’s founder says 70 percent of the content is viewed on mobile

“Now our prime time is the same as prime time television in the evenings and the majority is happening on mobile. Mobile is just a much better platform for social content than desktop was,” he says.  “Anytime people are bored or have an in-between moment, they look at their phone. Social platforms like BuzzFeed are monetising their commercial breaks.”

He criticises news websites for being too slow to adapt to mobile.

But Mr Peretti says that many news websites, which rely on clumsy, slow-loading banner ads designed for desktop machines, will struggle and have not gone far enough in embracing mobile channels. They “are feeling almost the way newspapers felt”, he says.  “The thing that a lot of companies are investing in as their digital solution now is starting to feel like a legacy product and so there’s going to be a need to really update,” he says. “That’s going to put some pressure on the banner advertising-driven, website-driven digital extensions of, say, print publications.”

One solution, outlined by Emily Bell in her CJR article, is native advertising or what used to be called advertorial.  And here is the long-promised John Oliver segment on native advertising.

Thanks to Sally Park, who pointed out how there’s been a furore in South Korea over advertising, after Gucci wrapped an ad around the front page of a popular newspaper (picture here and here).  This kind of blatant advertising is already quite entrenched in the US, even in local papers, as illustrated by this story from the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 2011.  It describes how newsroom staff were horrified by the advertising wrap, but the editor retorted by claiming that the readers don’t care,  or as he put it, “I’ve received no complaints from inside the newsroom or outside. No emails, no phone calls.”

Also, in the interests of supporting your fellow students, I’m also posting a link to the Passion Project, a podcast put together by my storytelling class.  I promise you, there’s no native advertising in it.


Blogpost on device or technology that is changing your beat. (Deadline: Mar 20 9pm)


1 )Wearables Could Make the Glance the new Subatomic Unit of News (Nieman lab)

2) How the FT Used Wearables to Open Up the Reporting Process (Journalism.co.uk)            

3)The Man Who Wants to Turn Our Clothes Into Modular Gadgets    (Wired)

4) In the Future, Robots Will Write News That’s All About You (Wired)



How Citizen Journalism is Changing Primary Coverage

In recent days, we have seen an assortment of shaky phone-cam video of protestors being shoved, put in headlocks and ejected from Donald Trump rallies.  Viewed in quick succession, these give an extraordinary glimpse into the violence that is voiced – and acted upon – at Trump rallies.

As the New York Times writes, “The phrase “Get ’em out” has replaced “You’re fired” in Mr. Trump’s vernacular, offering him an air of iron-fisted authority to buttress the image of toughness he projects.”

These phone vids are regularly being used in news footage, as in these Washpost and CNN news pieces.

A journalist from CBS, Sopan Deb, was even thrown to the ground by Chicago police on Friday night.   Deb, who is Indian, has written about how he has been singled out at Trump events,

At a rally in December, he tweeted, “A man came up to me to say ‘Go back to Iraq!’ I’ve never been!”

And in January, he tweeted, “A Trump supporter just asked me at Reno event if I was taking pictures for ISIS. When I looked shocked, he said, ‘yeah, I’m talking to you.'”

And one final link – to a piece by Michael Mayo, a journalist from the Sun Sentinel in Boca Raton, who captured on his phone the instant he was told to leave a Trump rally.  Go now, or go to jail, he was told, as he stood silently at a rally in a public park, in possession of an entrance ticket.  “Tell him we’re trespassing him,” a Trump campaign officer said.   The legal issues are more complex than they might appear, as Mayo wrote,

I violated no laws, rules or guidelines. I was not being disruptive.

I was exercising my First Amendment rights.

But as it turns out, I might have walked into a legal gray zone. Some legal experts said this isn’t a cut-and-dried case of being denied freedom of assembly or speech because Donald Trump’s campaign isn’t the government. It can still exclude and eject people from events for almost any reason, except race.

Class collaborative document is here

Assignment:  Device blogpost for March 20th.



Language Matters


download (82)One way in which these primaries are changing American political journalism is linguistic.  In a campaign characterised by crassness and obscenity, news outlets have struggled to report on the vulgar and profane language used by candidates without breaking their own style guidelines.   In a somewhat po-faced piece, the Associated Press standards editor Tom Kent explained how the AP decides how low to go,

Our first reaction to Trump saying “pussy” was that the specific word he used wasn’t essential to convey. So we wrote: “When an audience member shouted out an insult directed at Cruz — a vulgar term for ‘coward’ — Trump repeated the term and jokingly reprimanded the woman.”

My own feeling was that it would have been OK to use the word. A couple of weeks later, we used the actual word in a story about Trump’s speaking and tweeting style.

As for “batshit,” you could argue it was hardly necessary to quote that one word in [Republican Senator Lindsey] Graham’s lengthy diatribe against Trump and the Republicans. But when a key senator and former presidential candidate becomes so worked up that he uses such vocabulary, that’s news in itself. We decided to use the word in our text services for newspapers and online.

The Wall Street Journal’s policy has been “use of impolite words should still be rare“.  Hmm, good luck with that. These linguistic problems will become more intense in the light of a new anti-Trump ad funded by a Republican group.  Here’s an attempt to describe it by PR Newswire,

In the new ad, a television screen positioned in front of a White House lectern shows Trump claiming, “I went to an Ivy League school.  I’m very highly educated.  I know words… I have the best words.”  But the following scenes display Trump at public appearances uttering bleeped-out profanities and vulgarities including “motherf*****,” “a**,” “p***y,” “d**n,” “s***,” and “f***.”

But bad language = coverage: the Atlantic’s Headline tracker shows that Donald Trump is getting 2.5 times more television coverage than any other candidate.   The New York Times insult tracker is here, which lhow Trump has used Twitter “to lob insults at presidential candidates,journalists, news organizations, nations, a Neil Young song and even a lectern in the Oval Office.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 22.17.03 Web outlets tend to have a looser policy on profanity.  Buzzfeed’s editorial standards and ethics guide says, “Profanity: We speak the language of the internet — which is often hilarious and often profane.  As such, profanity is permitted on BuzzFeed.”   Its style guide spells out guidance on which words can be used and which perhaps should not (“more sensitive words, like the c-word or n-word, should generally be styled thusly; OK to spell out n-word if it appears in a quote; in song lyrics, use asterisks except for the first and last letters.”).

On Morning Edition today, one more example of how “the coarse discourse of this political season has seeped deep into the fabric of our society”, as described by Washington Post sports columnist Kevin Blackstone.   He was talking about two incidents at high school basketball games where  students chanted, “Trump! Trump!” as a racial epithet at Latino students.  Here’s one of those incidents, as described by Oregon Live,

A Catholic high school in Indiana started an investigation Monday after some of its students, waving a picture of Donald Trump, chanted “build a wall” at a basketball team comprised mostly of Latino players.

Fans of the opposing team shouted back, “You’re a racist” and “Sí, se puede” (Spanish for “Yes, we can”).

Footage of the war photographer, Chris Morris, being choke-slammed at a Trump rally is here, and as a PSA, here’s the John Oliver takedown of #donalddrumpf.    As a measure of Oliver’s influence, after this came out, there were more online searches for Donald Drumpf than there were for Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz.

ASSIGNMENT: Photo story for March 13 9pm.


  1. The Counted (Guardian)
  2. What are the Best Practices for Crowdsourcing the Reporting Process? (Nieman Lab)
  3. Crowdsourcing Done Right (CJR)

Primary Focus

As the primary circus gears up in Michigan, it’s instructive to look at how the debates are being reported on social media.  Convenience and news snacking is key.  We’re seeing lots of instant takes – quotes, video clips, story cards, charts and illustrations –  as well as a masterful use of gifs.

At the moment, Bernie Sanders seems to be the King of Social Media.

On Instagram, Sanders saw the greatest overall gain in followers, adding a whopping 85,580 new followers, according to the photo sharing app. He also overcame Clinton to become the most followed Democratic candidate, and second overall to Donald Trump’s 1.11 million followers. Sanders now has 927,240 followers compared to Clinton’s 896,980.

And Democratic millennials are more likely to learn about the election from social media than Republican ones, according to Pew.   The candidates are also making ample use of social media to express their discontent with traditional media, and give close-up glimpses of their days.

So much energy at our rally tonight in Overland Park! Thousands excited to vote in the Kansas caucuses tomorrow.

A video posted by Marco Rubio For President (@marcorubiofla) on

Here’s a nice primer on the various types of online coverage that some news organisations are doing.

ASSIGNMENTS:  Photo stories for March 13th 9pm.