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FUTURE OF NEWS: Wearable News and Augmented Reality Journalism


By Kwami Ahiabenu, II.

News business started in Ghana, then Gold Coast, when The Gold Coast Gazette and Commercial Intelligencer, was born in1822-25 by Sir Charles MacCarthy, governor of the British Gold Coast settlements. Along came broadcasting on 31st July 1935 when Gold Coast Broadcasting System was commissioned. Over time media in Ghana has bloomed with a plethora of news outlets, booming social media and mobile channels providing countless news opportunities to growing audience base.

According to National Communications Authority (NCA) Ghana, as at 2015 there are 58 registered television stations in Ghana, 390 radio stations are registered and a projected 40 newspapers.

The rapid growth and falling costs of new digital technologies and tools has opened the door for new opportunities in news delivery in particular and journalism as a whole. Formerly, internet access was glued to computers but in present times, we are going through a phase of “internet of things” where multiple devices from tablets to refrigerators are connected to the Internet. This has had a profound implication not only for the way news is produced by also consumed as well.

In order to stimulate debate and map the trajectory of the news of future, Penplusbytes in association with Multimedia Group and Graphic corporation is holding, for the first time in Ghana, a landmark event on the “future of news” in August 2015. Ahead of this event we present a series of blog posts discussing key issues related to the future of news. In this first in the series, we take a look at Wearable News and Augmented Reality Journalism.

Wearable news refers to the delivering of news using wearable devices such clothing and accessories which contains computing and advanced electronic technologies including wearable cameras, watches and glasses to name a few. Simply put; instead of sitting at home and watch television, you can now have same content delivered to you via glasses on the go.

According to Gartner Inc., “By 2017, mobile apps will be downloaded more than 268 billion times, generating revenue of more than $77 billion and making apps one of the most popular computing tools for users across the globe.. As a result, they predict that mobile users will provide personalized data streams to more than 100 apps and services every day”. Also, it pointed out that, “Wearable devices will use mobile apps as their conduit for data exchange and user interface because many of them will have few or no user interface capabilities. Offloading that responsibility to the mobile device means the wearable devices will depend on apps for all types of user input or output, configuration, content creation and consumption, and in some cases, basic connectivity” Furthermore Gartner predicts that by 2018, “more than 25 million head-mounted displays (HMDs) will have been sold as immersive devices and virtual worlds will have transitioned from the fringe to the mainstream”.

This mind blowing statistics presents a fertile ground for newsrooms to create content which can be consumed on the go by users of wearable technologies. Producing content for wearable technologies is not business as usual. Journalists must develop new story telling skills which allows them to produce and deliver content to users who are on the move thereby making location very critical in terms what news they consume. A news consumer stuck in a long traffic due to a collapsed bridge on his or her route will be interested to find out news about state of repair etc. of this bridge and news about global food prices may not be top of his agenda.

A related technology is Augmented Reality (AR) which provides us with live news indirect or direct of our physical world environment whose elements are supplemented (augmented) by using new digital technologies and generated sensory input such Geographical Position System (GPS) data, video, graphics or sound. Using a combination of hardware such as processor, display, sensors, input devices, and display units such as head mounted display (HMD), Eyeglasses, Head-up display (HUD) among others. AR is supported by software and algorithms which derive its source from real world images from camera, processed it and deliver it to user.

A related concept to AR is mediated reality, which using new digital technologies, a view of reality is modified by either amplifying or diminishing it. In this direction, mediated reality technologies function by enhancing one’s current perception of reality where virtual reality replaces the real world with a simulated one. For example, using AR technology when one is watching football on TV during a live match, one can be fed with information about the match and more importantly the user can interact and digital change information as well since artificial information about the match is overlaid by the ongoing match.

For newsrooms, this is more than magic, ability to mash up news with more relevant information which information hungry audiences are looking for can ensure they stand relevant and influential in terms of delivering what content their targets need in a more interactive manner.

It is important to point out that, wearable news and augmented reality journalism is now taking baby steps in some newsrooms around the world, so it does not come as a surprise that newsrooms in Ghana are yet to experiment with some of these futuristic news production and delivery formats. A number of reasons account for this situation, there is a dearth of skills when it comes to the deploying of such technologies let alone the skills set needed to tell compelling stories in this emerging formats. Also, some of these tools are very expensive and beyond the reach of not only the journalists but also the consumers who will need these tools in order to consume news in this format. Ghana as a whole is falling behind, not only in the creation of the software but also the hardware needed to drive the growth and development of this type of innovative sorry telling format. Furthermore, revenue models needed to sustain the uptake of these innovations are still work in progress making it somewhat difficult for newsroom editors and owners to justify taking a leap of faith in undertaking this type of projects.

Some have even argued that challenges of newsroom in Ghana are very rudimentary, therefore it will be prudent to solve them first before venturing into this fairly complex means of news production and distribution. But one can counter argue that we could as well leapfrog and make use of some of these technologies to solve these challenges while growing the media sector and even become leaders in this area.

****As part of its Future of News Event in August, Penplusbytes, a leader in new media & innovations; tech & good governance, and mining, oil & Gas, is pleased to release a series of future of news articles. This inaugural article takes a look at “Wearable News and Augmented Reality Journalism.”

Watch out for next article in series: “Death of Newspaper- myth or reality.”

Follow @penplusbytes for updates. #futureofnews