Ethics of Immersive Journalism


Since the introduction of immersive journalistic pieces for broader audiences by de la Peña et al. in 2010, the variety of VR content increased. But with this innovation for journalistic storytelling, also new challenges emerged. Despite the different facets of challenges, just as technological difficulties, there is one major aspect that is repeatedly mentioned, but rarely fully elaborated – ethics. This paper aims at delineating the current research agenda surrounding immersive journalism and bringing the hitherto underrepresented perspective of ethics back in.

In order to get an overview of the ongoing debates on the technological aspects and complexities of immersive journalism, we applied a quantitative literature analysis including close reading of abstracts of articles published with Taylor & Francis Online and SAGE journals. We composed a sample of 21 articles based on the search terms “VR journalism”, “immersive journalism” and “360° video”. As regards content, the main criterion for the articles to be included was the focus on immersive journalism. We analysed the sample by categorising the articles as to their main topics and their reference to ethics.

This quantitative literature analysis covers a limited sample of publications regarding immersive journalism and can therefore only depict a rough outline of the ongoing debate. But nevertheless, we can determine a lack of ethical examinations of immersive journalism. The results show that the majority of abstracts (n = 17) does not include ethical challenges as one of their main themes. Instead research mostly focused in immersive journalism as a new means for interactive storytelling and disruptive narratives. The scientific discussion mainly refers to technological issues and the reception of immersive contents. Undeniably, detailed explorations of technological specificities and functionalities are essential for an understanding of immersive journalism. But to avoid the overemphasising technological-fetishist perspectives, efforts must be made to shift the focus towards social and ethical implications of virtual reality journalism.

Against this backdrop, this article argues for incorporating ethical dimensions such as responsibility, emotional involvement, youth protection, visual ethics and journalistic due diligence in order to take into account effects of recipients’ exposure to VR content and the conditional ethical guidelines for the production of immersive contents.


De la Peña, N., Weil, P., Llobera, J., Giannopoulos, E., Pomés, A., Spanlang, B., Friedman, D., Sanchez-Vives, M. V., & Slater, M. (2010). Immersive Journalism: Immersive Virtual Reality for the First-Person Experience of News. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 19(4), 291-301. doi:10.1162/PRES_a_00005