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How The New York Times Achieved an Olympic Feat of Immersive Journalism

On Monday, The New York Times published its first augmented reality feature. The article, written by John Branch, includes four AR moments and is a preview of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Readers are able to meet world-class Olympic competitors — the figure skater Nathan Chen, the big-air snowboarder Anna Gasser, the short-track speed skater J.R. Celski and the hockey goalie Alex Rigsby — midperformance. Through your phone, the room around you looks just as it is, except the athlete is in it with you.

Augmented reality allows us to bridge the digital and physical worlds; graphical elements can be superimposed on your immediate environment. The Olympics project — a major collaboration among the newsroom, design and product staffs that I led, as The Times’s director of immersive platforms — demonstrates one of AR’s richest benefits: deepening the explanatory value of visual journalism. Scale, for example, is incredibly difficult to represent on your phone screen. By conjuring athletes as if they were in the room, scale is conveyed by the context of your surroundings.

Another advantage is the mode of interaction we provide. Instead of the abstractions of pinch-to-zoom or swipe or click, we simply ask readers to treat the graphic as a physical object. If you want to see the form from another angle, you simply walk around to that area. If you want to see something up close, simply lean in to that spot. News becomes something you can see, literally, from all sides.

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