The ‘Old Gray Lady’ Turns to VR

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When discussing early adopters in any new medium, newspapers aren’t usually on the list. But the New York Times has bucked the trend lately with a VR-focused newsroom and corporate mission.

“We’ve got just about every desk in the newsroom — sports, science, style, foreign — pitching VR stories,” said the Times’ Sam Dolnick on Everything VR/AR podcast. “So we’re in the process of learning what is a VR story.”

As VR editor at the New York Times Magazine, Dolnick’s colleague Jenna Pirog is leading the publication’s VR efforts. She’s also the first person to hold the title. “We’re all still trying to figure out what that means,” she said.

Among other things, the “Old Gray Lady” has shipped more than 1 million cardboard units in partnership with Google, and continues to produce VR pieces across coverage areas. These can be seen in the NYTVR app.

Distributing Cardboard headsets was mainly to get over the classic chicken-and-egg hump according to Dolnick: Without device penetration, the content wouldn’t find a home. So they decided to seed the addressable market.

This aligns with the “lessons for local” we outlined at last week’s BIA/Kelsey ENGAGE — particularly the parts about embracing emerging technologies. The New York Times joins our list of exemplars in this area.

The question now is how NYT will embrace VR to boost its business model. Will VR apply to advertising as we’ve asked in the past? And what about its position as a news authority. Will it become the “VR of record” too?

“The Times contains multitudes, and NYTVR will have the same breadth,” said Dolnick in the podcast. “You’re going to see us experiment with different kinds of story telling, and try out narratives.”

Check out the podcast in full below.

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