When you consider most major news stories over the past few hundred years, few were more in the know than newspapers. But in an age where it can be hard to make any content stand out, traditional news outlets are exploring new ways to tell their stories.
In the case of newspaper conglomerate Gannett/USA Today, Chief Product Officer Kris Barton said this means turning to a new digital darling: nonfungible tokens.
“So much content that you can imagine, stories, these historic moments, events, other things that have happened, we’ve really had a front row seat at and been part of,” Barton told Technical.ly. “There’s just such a unique opportunity there to say ‘How can we reconnect these great stories and these great moments with new audiences?’”
Also known as NFTs, nonfungible tokens are original blockchain versions of creative content, and could be anything from art, music, photos, videos or audio (think of it like a digital, OG version of the Mona Lisa). On Monday, June 28, at 8 p.m., the USA Today Network, which is headquartered in McLean, Virginia, will be auctioning off an NFT version of the first newspaper on the Moon. Astronaut Alan Shepard delivered the paper in 1971 on the Apollo 14, the same trip in which he smacked the first golf balls on the Moon. Proceeds will benefit the Air Force Space & Missile Museum Foundation and The Gannett Foundation.
“We’re using NFTs as an opportunity really to showcase this content to new communities and bring people together around purpose and around things that unite us,” Barton said. “We really think that’s core to who we are.”
The NFT includes over 300 photographs, graphics and illustrations, plus images of five decades of space-themed front covers, including the 1971 trip. They’re all arranged in an interactive mosaic in the NFT. The images are designed to look like the cover from Alan Shephard’s paper, and Barton confirmed that they were taken from the actual paper on the Moon, not just the same issue from the archive. The winner of the auction will also receive a hard copy of the original paper, a video tour of the mosaic and a tour around the Space Coast—the area around the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station—with Florida Today Reporter Emre Kelly.
Barton said USA Today turned to NFTs to bring out the technological side of the company.
“We see ourselves also as an emerging technology company, so that’s one of the things that we wanted to bring out, and we think it’s really relevant right now, too,” Barton said. “The idea of NFTs is getting a lot of buzz right now, it’s very current, it’s very modern and that is who we want to be and who we are, and so we really want to shine forward on that.”
Barton said the company elected to kick things off with a space-themed NFT due to the popularity of the topic right now (hello, Bezos’ upcoming journey into the atmosphere). But Gannett is not stopping there. Barton said the company wants to continue finding new ways to share these monumental and historic moments (respectfully) through additional NFTs, plus AR and VR. He also anticipates merging these new tech-enabled reporting techniques into upcoming coverage like the Olympics.
“One of the things that we want to do using technology, and NFTs is one of the pillars of that, is to really allow people to immerse themselves in experiences,” Barton said. “And we’re going to do that and a lot of different ways over the next several months.”
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