Fusion, the digital news outlet funded by Univision and Disney, is creating a virtual reality unit tasked with bringing the burgeoning reporting tool into its newsroom, according to a memo from Editor-in-Chief Alexis Madrigal.
Citing a desire to explore “ways to integrate virtual reality into our storytelling,” Madrigal outlined a new initiative that has already borne some fruit: a look inside a fusion reactor and a closeup examination of a blue whale:
The possibilities are exciting. We can take people places they’ll never go or places that don’t exist. Some people think VR will act as a kind of empathy machine, though I’m not sure I’d go that far (and besides, don’t novels do that already?).
In his email, Madrigal cautioned that the relatively small audience of virtual reality users requires the outlet to be conservative in its expectations in terms of sheer viewership.
We should be real about our expectations, too: the universe of VR users is still small. Like everything else we do, success won’t and can’t be measured exclusively by view counts. We’re first and foremost trying to learn with our Fusion VR experiments, understanding how to optimize how we’re using the technology. The VR experience is becoming more accessible and we want FUSION to be on the frontline.
Madrigal’s caveat could be read as an acknowledgment of previous criticism leveled against the startup, which has lured many of media’s biggest names but garnered scrutiny from media reporters for a perceived failure to justify its star-studded payroll with big traffic numbers. In June, Gawker published a screenshot of Fusion’s Chartbeat dashboard accompanied by the headline “More People Work at Fusion Than Are Reading Its Most Popular Post.” Madrigal retorted on Twitter, noting that the site was still in its adolescence. A Fusion spokesperson added that the outlet’s traffic has grown by 280 percent in the last six months.
Other news outlets have also dipped their toes into the realm of virtual reality journalism. Both The New York Times and Gannett have dabbled in the reporting medium within the last 12 months, but widespread use of VR remains elusive.
This story has been updated to include context from Fusion.