Virtual Reality and Small Players: How Technology Changes Cultural Journalism

Art Basel Hong Kong has attracted thousands of visitors last Saturday, with experts shedding light on how new technologies are changing ways that journalists do cultural reporting.

The international art fair attracted nearly 80,000 attendees this year, marking the fifth consecutive year that the exhibition had taken place in Hong Kong.

Guest speakers at the event touched on emerging technologies in the media landscape, and how journalists can use them to improve cultural reporting – or the exact opposite.

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BBC Culture homepage. Photo: Screenshot.

‘Small players’ are important

Matthew Anderson, the editor at BBC Culture, emphasised the importance of “smaller players” in the media industry when asked why does BBC share stories from other publications sometimes.

“There are big players with big audiences who value the arts and culture and go to their audiences with their story, but that’s not the only element to it,” said Anderson.

“There also needs to be viable smaller players who can specialise and go into levels of depth and uncover new stories as they emerge in ways that are impossible for bigger players to do because they need to serve a large audience,” he added.

Anderson said that BBC promotes smaller publications because new technologies such as Facebook had changed the status quo. Today, media organisations must “go to [the audience]” instead of the other way around.

“We don’t think about social media channels as marketing channels which try to get [the reader] to click on our stories. If there are stories from elsewhere that we think would interest our audience we would share them. I think that’s just how the internet works,” said Anderson.

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Art Basel gallery at Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Photo: Cindy Ko.

Virtual reality influences journalism and art

Noony de la Peña, the pioneer in the virtual reality technology and CEO of Emblematic Group, showcased her product’s potential in journalism and art industry.

De la Peña began with demonstrating “immersive journalism” in action. She played a video that shows people observing the reenactment of a man collapsing on the street using virtual reality goggle.

The video showed how users reacted to the situation. Some were careful not to step on the body despite knowing it wasn’t there, while others cried after witnessing the incident in virtual reality.

“This happens over and over again with people trying to touch the person, trying to walk around them, speak to them, everything they can do to help, and they can’t, right? It’s a pretty astonishing situation,” said De la Peña.

The virtual reality pioneer further explained the use of this technology in art, specifically with an example called Sketchfab that allows people to observe 3D animated artworks in virtual reality. The technology would allow artists to create works that weren’t possible, either physically or economically, in reality.

‘Art under attack’

“In America, right now, when art is so under attack – our government is talking about cutting our National Endowment for the Arts – it’s more important now than ever that we try to protect cultural literacy and to understand the basic human need to create,” said De la Peña, referencing to the recent budget cut to art programs in the United States under Trump administration.

The entrepreneur also pointed out the need for humans to create by referencing a project called Tilt Brush that lets people paint in 3D goggle. She said she had seen children and adults paint in virtual space and did not want to take the headset off.

“There isn’t artist or non-artist in the world, humans just need to create and I think if somehow if we understand the beauty of that and convey the beauty of that and encourage people to be excited and embrace and be excited about that, maybe we can shift the needle a little away from what we see in the Untied States.”

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