The New York Times partners with Facebook to launch an augmented reality reporting project

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Facebook and the New York Times have come together to launch a multi-year augmented reality (AR) news project, allowing Instagram users to access the NYT’s journalism in new ways.

The takeaways:
  • The partnership will see the NYT deliver “augmented reality-driven reporting” on its Instagram page. Followers will be able to interact with the effects and use the filters on their pictures and videos.
  • The NYT will also create an AR Lab, where around 12 employees will work with their journalists to develop AR content.
  • The technology will be provided by Facebook’s Spark AR platform. Facebook will also advise on the development of the Lab’s work, as well as supplying a financial incentive.

It’s not the New York Times’ first foray into AR. They produced 13 different AR projects in 2018 alone, from an investigation into a bombing in Syria to a visit to the large hadron collider at CERN. These efforts have all been on its own platform. This will be the first time it has used AR outside of its properties.

Background check: Although many publishers have dabbled in AR, there are still significant limitations.

  • Distribution is challenging due to an atomized app ecosystem.
  • There are still very limited monetization prospects; without upfront sponsorship, AR is expensive to invest in.
  • The NYT is receiving money from Facebook as well as their expertise to be able to produce these filters. It’s unlikely other publishers would adopt a similar strategy without incentives from platforms.

Yes but: As technologies advance, augmented reality experiences are becoming cheaper to produce. Audiences are also becoming more familiar with them. Face filters and lenses on Snapchat and Instagram’s Story formats have played a big role in popularising such formats.

Ready for launch

According to Axios, the first few filters from the NYT’s launch series will include coverage of the California wildfires and air quality during the COVID-19 lockdown, as well as visual interactive pieces tied to the centennial of women’s suffrage.

  • The NYT is hoping the filters will help users engage with their journalism. “When users encounter the effects through our handles or people who share the effect, we hope they come to us to find a fuller story,” said assistant managing editor Monica Drake. “It gives them an entry point into our journalism.”

It remains to be seen what the KPIs on the NYT’s AR experiment are. Has this been approached to find a long term sustainable solution for AR-driven journalism? Or is it making use of a shorter-term partnership with Facebook?

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