The concept of putting on a headset and suddenly ending up in an entirely new environment remained for so long a plotline used in science fiction movies. But within the past couple of years virtual reality is now a reality.

This week, PlayStation released a new VR gaming system, similar to Oculus, as another way for gamers to play video games.

“Virtual reality is unleashing a new immersive storytelling,” said Cathy Trost, senior vice president at the Newseum. “It allows readers to step into a story in powerful new ways.”

But the use of VR is not limited to video games.

News organizations have used the incredibly powerful storytelling tool to present stories to the public. During the Republican National Convention, ABC, CNN and The Huffington Post published 360 degree video content.

Last October, New York Times sent out a million Google Cardboard virtual reality headsets. In 2012, Huffington Post launched RYOT with the goal to use virtual reality to engage with new ways of storytelling.

The stories that incorporate virtual reality change the way people can consume news.  

The technology is even more accessible to the public after the Newseum opened a VR Lab for visitors to become immersed in storytelling.

“I think the potential for this technology is unimaginable right now. When you think of 1950s, just the beginning of television sets and it transformed things,” said visitor, Joe Sferra, from Ohio.

Sferra walked inside the lab and took a seat among other visitors in the space with eight red chairs for visitors to comfortably sit in during the experience. In the background a video displayed instructions on how to truly enjoy the VR experience.

Beside the lab is a darkened room full of kiosks for visitors to enjoy a personalized, almost cubicle, experience with a flat screen in front that shows videos with 360 angling.

But back in the lab, Sferra waits as a Newseum employee hands each visitor a headset. Once the goggles were positioned over the eyes everything changed.

Visitors watched and heard as President Obama walked through Yosemite National Park, the huge sequoia groves and the mountain tops in the background. A moment later, waves crashed above as fish swam by and the coral reefs of Raja Ampat appeared. Right as a visitor understands the serious issue of the dying reefs, the video ends and another begins.

“I have watched people be thrilled and delighted it’s so fun to watch them to shriek with pleasure and delight or call out what they’re seeing,” Trost said.

From an outsider’s view it is a slightly strange scene to watch people with headsets on swivel around in their chairs or laugh or jump in sudden movements all while remaining in the Newseum.

But the 10 videos of the VR Lab engage with sounds, visuals and complete control of a person’s head movement with the range of 360 degrees. Each month the Newseum holds a competition to showcase the top 10 videos from all around the world.

“This technology has great power to take you and put you in situations you might never encounter, while engaging you in a very emotional way,” Trost said.

Through virtual reality, it helps people better emphasize with the stories. Last November the New York Times released a 360 video titled, “The Displaced.” The story revolved around the 60 million people who were forced to move due to war or prosecution, but specifically focused on the narratives of young children.

This new wave of storytelling holds potential to engage people further than it used to.  

“The virtual reality tour was sensitive based and touched your feelings as if you were there at times,” said another visitor, David Deutsch, from New Jersey.  

“It gave you the ability to travel with the correspondent along for the ride.”

Whether the technology drops people into a game or onto the frontlines of Fallujah, virtual reality adds an entirely new dimension of storytelling.

Similar to the introduction of the radio or the television set, this technology has many possibilities for the public to begin to engage with and for industries to revolutionize.

“The impact is going to be profound in many, many ways,” said Sferra.

Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo courtesy of Erin Shellenberger and the Newseum

Naomi Harris is a senior multi-platform journalism and sociocultural anthropology double major and can be reached at

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