Online journalism research trends such as virtual reality, millenials and the news and headline uncertainty addressed by scholars at ISOJ

Trends in online journalism research — such as virtual reality storytelling, millenials and the news, and degrees of certainty in headlines — were some of the topics explored during a breakfast panel held Saturday, April 16, at the 17th International Symposium on Online Journalism (ISOJ).

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The discussion was guided by Pablo Boczkowski, professor and director of the Master of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprises at Northwestern University.

Regarding the use of virtual reality in research and teaching, Avery Holton, assistant professor at the University of Utah, explained how the Nokia OZO 3D virtual reality camera is like a “time machine” if used as a storytelling tool.

This tool can help people experience other peoples’ lives in real time, creating a sense of augmented reality in a very emotional way.

Through virtual reality, said Holton, journalists and researchers can get very close to their subjects. In that way journalists can create a digital experience narrative, telling the story as an emotional journey.

Paula Poindexter, associate professor at the School of Journalism, University of Texas at Austin, spoke about millennials, mobile, news and social media.

She talked about the four major things that had changed everything since the beginning of this century, “making obsolete many of the assumptions that we had about the news media landscape and how consumers engage with that.”

In her research, Poindexter has classified four major changes that have made a real difference on the current media landscape:

  • Facebook has set a new standard.
  • The millennial generation “that has now come of age, has also changed everything.”
  • The use of the iPhone and all smartphones.
  • Mobile consumers.

About the last one, Poindexter observed that as a result of a national survey she conducted for her forthcoming book The News for Mobile First Consumers, she sees the rise of three types of mobile consumers: The mobile first consumers are the ones who use their smartphone for everything; the mobile specialists, who use their mobile devices for entertainment, and the Internet; and the mobile laggards, who use smartphones for communication (to check emails, etc.).

She considers the millennial generation to be people who are now in their 30s (born during the 1980s and 1990s). According to Poindexter, this generation is less likely to subscribe to news because they have been “mocked and demeaned by the news media,” which is why they don’t have the best relationship with the news media.

“Millennials are up to five times more likely to be on social media than to seek news,” said Poindexter.

About her study and the millenials’ apparent lack of desire to be informed, Poindexter concluded that these issues are important to address in journalism because “being informed is a fundamental expectation in a democratic society.”

Regarding engaging news consumers, Josh Scacco, assistant professor at Purdue University, has researched readers’ reaction to headlines that frame different degrees of certainty.

His findings are a product of a series of research efforts conducted by the Engaging News Project, housed at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at UT Austin.

“Individuals don’t like uncertainty,” he said, and that is what the consumer perceives when a headline includes questions.

Compared to the traditional headline, he added, the question headline prompted significantly more negative reactions because people were less likely to report that they would engage with that kind of headline.

Scacco concluded that in order to engage news consumers, news should answer questions, not ask them.

The breakfast panel was closed by Elanie Steyn, associate professor of the University of Oklahoma, who talked about innovation in global journalism education.

ISOJ continues on Saturday, April 16, in the Blanton Museum of Art, on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. It is being livestreamed in English here and in Spanish here.