New York Times using virtual reality to tell story of refugees

google cardboard in use
CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 TK_Presse

If you follow the tech world at all, you know that virtual reality has finally gone mainstream. For example, The Oculus Rift, a breakthrough virtual reality headset, raised $2.5 million on Kickstarter two years ago and the company was then bought by Facebook last year for $2 billion. Virtual reality is the natural next step to how we interact with the media content we consume, from gaming to movies and more.

In August, Google launched a virtual reality headset for the masses called Google Cardboard. The flatpack cardboard kits cost as little as $4 and have to be folded into shape and then attached to your iPhone or Android device. A corresponding app then converts your smartphone into a virtual reality device that reacts to your head movements, letting you explore places from the Eiffel Tower to the ISS. Lloyd wrote about how wonderful Cardboard is when he checked it out for the INDEX awards.

It was only a matter of time until someone realized this would be a great way to tell a news story. The New York Times, always on the cutting edge of story-telling, has partnered with Google to send Cardboard headsets to all of its print subscribers during the weekend of November 7-8 and digital subscribers will receive a code for a free viewer. The headsets will be used to view a film called "The Displaced" about child refugees from Syria, South Sudan and Eastern Ukraine produced by The New York Times Magazine and virtual reality company VRSE.

Executive editor Dean Baquet said the magazine had “created the first critical, serious piece of journalism using virtual reality, to shed light on one of the most dire humanitarian crises of our lifetime.”

The Times says that virtual reality has great potential for showing viewers the people and events in major new stories like this one and creating an empathic connection. It will allow viewers to immerse themselves in these stories that take place in otherwise inaccessible places and that could have a real impact.

This is just the first in a series of virtual reality films that the news outlet has planned. It will release its own free VR app on November 5 for viewing them.

If you aren't a subscriber, the film will be available on The Times website in its regular, 2D form.

New York Times using virtual reality to tell story of refugees
Subscribers will get the inexpensive Google Cardboard goggles to view the film.

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