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USA Today Harnesses Augmented Reality for Exploring Current News Stories

USA Today, the US-based news organisation is utilising augmented reality (AR) technology to explore deeper perspectives of news for audience members.

Audiences can access the dedicated AR section of the USA Today App to browse and view topical stories that are released once a month. Some of the features published include the Apollo 11 mission’s 50th anniversary, to a virtual rendition of the first slave ships arrival in America.

USA Today has seen a significant rise in user engagement since publishing the first AR story in July 2018. The Women’s World Cup AR feature accumulated 200,000 views, and viewers spent an average of nearly four minutes viewing the story about the Oscars. Conventional content only got about 90-second views on average.

Raymond Soto, director of emerging tech at the USA Today Network, remarked that high levels of engagement showed how audiences were embracing the technology. This finding was an eye-opener for Soto and his colleagues, as it made evident how they were doing things right on the aspect of interactive AR storytelling.

Augmented reality news stories on USA Today. Image source: Journalism.co.uk

The USA Today team had contemplated the concept of using virtual reality (VR) as a new vehicle for storytelling. Instead, it chose AR following Apple and Google’s decisions to make AR-integrated smartphones. Elaborating further, Soto said that the shift towards AR was rational as most of its audiences now read or viewed news content on their mobile devices.

However, the processes of creating AR story features is by no means easy, due to the hefty volumes of coding needed. How much time each project development would take is also hard to predict, as it depends on the story and the kind of experience to be delivered to audiences.

Soto said that the Oscars-related AR project released in February 2019 took a duration of about three weeks to complete, as the team could set up a framework. In contrast, the AR rendition of a Notre Dame piece took just eight hours of development time. He also revealed that the team has also participated in projects that took many months to complete, mainly in-depth investigative features. Asked if coding might be a skill reporters eventually need to possess, Soto did not rule out the possibility.

Soto believes that the advent of several innovative technologies has opened the doors for content creators to gain deeper perspectives, test out new concepts, and work on developing an approach that works for audiences. But Soto is not for the idea of relying solely on AR technology for creating immersive news story experiences. He is keen on experimenting involving drones, newsroom artificial intelligence, and natural language processing. These are technologies that can heighten the immersive elements of news stories for audiences. He remarked that the chance of exploring and observing what each technology form can achieve, and how they can be combined to create impressive features.

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