April 28, 2016

In May, The New York Times will send Google Cardboard viewers to 300,000 digital-only subscribers who were chosen “based on the duration of their subscriptions,” according to a press release. The distribution is timed with the release of “Seeking Pluto’s Frigid Heart.”

The New York Times’s film allows the viewer to fly over Pluto, soaring above never-before-seen rugged mountains and bright plains, and stand on Pluto’s unique surface as its largest moon hovers over the horizon.

In October, the Times sent Cardboard to print subscribers in another partnership with Google. When Bill Mitchell got his viewer, he wrote for Poynter that it was more novelty than truly useful.

I expect the utility will show itself, over time, in two main ways: increasing my control over the user experience and telling me more about stories I care most about.

In November, the Times offered users a virtual reality experience at vigils in Paris after terrorist attacks there. The Times also produced a 360 video of the vigils.

Last week, Huffington Post announced it would work with the virtual reality company RYOT, which was bought by AOL. As more news organizations use VR and 360 video, more journalists are talking about the ethics of VR, too.

‘Because the medium is so strong and makes people have such a real and direct experience, the risk is obviously that if you are portraying a traumatizing subject or event, that you will have a stronger negative affect on the audience,” said Fergus Pitt. “This is a continuum that journalists are used to thinking about. We’re familiar with the ethical thinking around photography, and the need to be sensitive and know what is likely to cause trouble with your audience. But virtual reality turns the dial up on those effects and those problems and those conversations.’

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Kristen Hare covers the people and business of local news and is the editor of Locally at Poynter. She previously worked as a staff writer…
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