If you subscribe to the print edition of the New York Times, keep an eye out in the coming weeks: The newspaper is distributing over a million of Google’s Cardboard virtual reality headsets to subscribers as part of NYT VR, a new virtual reality initiative launched in collaboration with Google.
All New York Times print subscribers will receive a headset in the mail during the weekend of November 7, while a handful of digital subscribers will get a redeemable code for a free Cardboard viewer.
NYT VR’s first project is titled “The Displaced” and focuses on three children–across South Sudan, eastern Ukraine, and Syria–whose lives are “uprooted by war,” according to the Times. This is the first release in a lineup of virtual reality films that the Times plans to release to subscribers.
“Our readers look to the Times for innovative and powerful storytelling, and this is the Times at its best,” executive editor Dean Baquet said in a statement. “Our Magazine team has 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.”
Jake Silverstein, editor in chief of the New York Times Magazine, echoed Baquet’s sentiment. “The power of VR is that it gives the viewer a unique sense of empathic connection to people and events,” he said in a statement. “In the context of international reporting and conflict reporting, where our readers rely on us to bring them news and stories from remote and inaccessible places, this has huge potential.”
Google Cardboard is easy to use, even for those unfamiliar with the technology. All subscribers have to do is download the NYT VR app, which will be available November 5, and pop their smartphones into the headset. Those who aren’t blessed with a freebie from the Times can buy or make their own headset, or just watch the films through the app normally.
The Guardian notes that other newspapers in the U.S. and Europe have tried to embellish their storytelling with virtual reality, but that “the cost of devices made by companies such as Oculus” has made it difficult to do so. By delivering cheap headsets to its subscribers, the Times is ensuring that interested parties can check out its new content with no hassle–and that those who don’t receive a Cardboard headset can feasibly purchase or make one if they so desire.
One of the follow-up films to “The Displaced” will be a deep dive into how the New York Times Magazine created its much-lauded “Walking New York” cover from April, which featured an aerial view of the Flatiron plaza, where the Times had commissioned a large-scale pasted photograph by French artist JR.