NY Times Takes Its First Step into VR

In our previous post, we explored the idea that virtual reality is bound to revolutionize journalism, both for the reporter and her audience. Just a few days ago, the New York Times revealed its new app, NYT VR, that provides immersive coverage of global events.

Evidently, the revolution is evolving faster than we could have ever guessed, and we are thrilled to be a part of the action. If you are a NYT subscriber and want to get in on this new experience, Knoxlabs is providing complimentary cardboard viewers that are available here. With an awesome viewer powered by Knoxlabs, and content from the best journalists at the New York Times, your media experience will never be the same again.

Over the weekend, many New York Times subscribers received a cardboard VR viewer along with their Sunday edition of the newspaper. This giveaway was the kick off for the NYT VR app, available on both the App Store and Google Play, that allows users to explore a new form of storytelling. NYT VR can be used by anyone with a smartphone and a pair of headphones, but if you have a cardboard viewer as well, then that experience becomes totally immersive.

As a start, the New York Times has curated four VR stories that focus on the plight of refugee children who have been displaced due to political turbulence in their home countries. According to NYT Magazine, there are more than sixty million displaced people in the world, and sadly many of them are children who are growing up in a world of uncertainty and danger.

With the NYT VR app and a cardboard viewer, you can traverse scenes of struggle that currently plague areas of Lebanon, South Sudan and Ukraine. Access to news from around the world is no novel thing, but to be able to experience current events in a 360 degree format, is a unique development that some hope will change the way in which we absorb news.

While VR experiences can definitely raise awareness about certain issues, they can also inadvertently question their gravity. A group of developers in France recently received a wave of backlash for their VR app that depicted the experience of an office worker in the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Understandably, that VR experiment was called out for being too gruesome, and disrespectful to the victims of a horrible tragedy. By turning a terrorist attack into an app that can be downloaded from the same platform that offers the likes Angry Birds and Tinder, seems rather insensitive. It should be noted that the development team insisted that their VR experience was meant to be a tribute to the victims of 9/11, and nothing less.

So where does one draw the line? Yes, by transporting people into the experience of a victim, it is possible to raise compassion and concern. However, we can get a 360 view of a refugee child’s life all we want, but that still won’t make us truly understand what it’s like to live in that kind of poverty and instability. With VR reporting and curated experiences, are we bringing people closer to the action, or simply numbing them to the worst realities of this world?

You can decide for yourself by experiencing the NYT VR app with your own viewer, available here.

Words by Lilit Markosian