"One of the biggest challenges of virtual reality (VR) is the hype," said Anetta Jones, VR producer at The Guardian, speaking at MojoFest in Galway last week (31 May).

"But now it has died down, VR can really take hold and there will be more patience, which will allow the technology to get better, become lighter, more wearable, less clunky and awkward to wear, and the content will improve as well."

Indeed, the last three years have seen immersive journalism soar as technology has advanced enough to make storytelling through virtual reality, augmented reality and 360-degree video possible, but the cost of producing high-quality content has held a lot of potential creators back, as has the time and manpower it takes to connect with audiences in this way.

Thanks to consumer-based spherical cameras like the Samsung360 and Insta360, news organisations are increasingly dabbling in 360-degree video, while larger organisations like the Guardian are producing a dedicated virtual reality output with a range of content, taking audiences to places they have never seen before, or in the shoes of someone they would likely never befriend.

"People are slowly starting to learn how to tell stories in this immersive environment, drawing on theatre, cinema and gaming to create their own narrative language," said Jones.

For example, Jones's team at the Guardian have produced a range of work, from First Impressions, allowing audiences to experience and interact with the world from the point of view of a baby, to Sea Prayer, which uses illustrated animation to commemorate the second anniversary of Alan Kurdi’s tragic death – both of which use wildly different techniques to get viewers to connect with two separate stories.

Although these experiences are impressive, the higher-quality tools that the media organisations crave are costly, and most of these tools require specialist technical knowledge to use them, explained Chloé Rochereuil, journalist and co-founder of VR company Targo.

"For example, producing good AR experiences is extremely time-consuming, expensive and it's not really accessible to journalists because of things like capturing 3D scans, which is specialist work," she said.

Marcus Bösch, co-founder, Vragments VR/AR Studio, and creator of Fader, a web-based 360-degree content creation tool, agreed, but noted that new technology which is more newsroom-friendly is on the rise, such as the capabilities of the smartphone in your pocket.

"Google's Project Tango showed us that even your mobile phone is beginning to recognise the things around you, and is getting better and better at understanding large amounts of data," he said.

New cameras like Google's VR180 that can record in 3D but the footage can be viewed of shared in either 2D or 3D, are being developed to widen the VR pool of content creators. GoPro have also released OverCapture to allow users to transform spherical media captured with Fusion into traditional, non-spherical content within its app.

With the growing, cost-savvy ability to create VR and AR content within the newsroom, Bösch explained that there will be a bright future for immersive technologies, full of "more experimentation, more failing, more learning, more crying and more swearing", ultimately leading to more news outlets helping the medium evolve.

Rochereuil's company Targo, which collaborates with media companies to help them develop immersive experiences, are even looking to create augmented reality (AR) templates, enabling journalists to use an online tool to upload content, add text and music, which would be a first step on the ladder for a lot of novice newsrooms to dip their foot in the AR water.

"I believe that immersion could be as popular and as powerful as TV once was," Rochereuil said, but warned that content creators have a responsibility to ensure the quality of the content they are pushing out to audiences at this early stage.

Although the majority of audiences do not own headsets, Sarah Redohl, editor, Immersive Shooter, explained that she believes there lies a steady and sustainable future in 360-degree video, leading to more interest in VR and AR storytelling.

"There are so many positive headlines now – we have VR pieces brokered for seven figures, people throwing 360-degree video into their traditional TV broadcasts, we've had the first Pulitzer Prize for immersive media, and VR is still being funded by big companies like Facebook and Google," she said.

"20XX is now the year of VR, because I am not going to say that 2018 will be the year of VR – we said that with 2015, 2016 and 2017, but I think we are in the age of VR.

"The support for 360-degree video is still strong, despite the fact that it is competing with other technologies," she said, noting that Oculus, a headset developer and manufacturer, found out only 40 per cent of headset owners have played a VR game, but 99 per cent have watched a 360-degree video.

"I think sometimes we get a little distracted with the glitz and glamour of new and emerging technologies, but 360-degree video is still impressive to a lot of people."

Jones agreed, noting that publishers must continue to experiment and innovate within this space if the technology is going to continue to resonate with audiences.

"Everything we are doing is a prototype – it is an incredible time and we are in the beginning of seeing how we tell stories. Anyone getting involved now will be at the beginning of this movement."

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).