In journalism, a good image can make a good story great. The right image can captivate a reader. It can hold them hostage for those few moments necessary to inspire interest in a well-developed article. But I can’t help but notice that good news photos are becoming harder and harder to come by.
Roaming around the internet I often feel bombarded with eye catching images proceeded by pithy headlines. Intrigued, I click the link to the “full story” only to find a story that was not exactly what I anticipated. Too often the images meeting our eyes on the home page of our favorite news outlets are common and unenticing. Even more frequently these images have little or nothing to do with the actual content of the article itself.
In recent years there has been a tendency for news organizations to use “stock” photography to bolster the appeal of their article. In fact many of the headlining images we see are directly from creative commons and image collections such as iStockphoto, Getty Images, and Corbis Images. There are many web sites dedicated to providing easy access to a wealth of images to ease such rapid production of news the consumers expect such as Photo Archive News.
They are easy to spot with their nondescript depictions of every day material. Open up any browser homepage, MSN, Yahoo!, even Google News, and these types of images are proudly displayed, luring visitors to stop and look for a moment at the headlines below.
Although many of these images are well crafted visually they usually bear very limited relevance to the specifics details being discussed. They are common and ordinary, but just interesting enough. Nothing specific. Some images are so generic I feel a little duped.
Many of the images are meant to be representative of ideals. For example, the LA Times used a stock photograph of a dog looking out a window, while reporting their recent story “Dogs accidentally poison veterinarians”. Presumably, this image is being used symbolically to provide a reference of a dog. Obviously we all need a reference of a random dog to understand this story better, right?
The LA Times is not alone in infecting journalism with these fake news photos. Not even the New York Times has been able to fight the disease.
The benefit for news producers is clear, decently intriguing photos without having to hire a photographer to cover a story. Even better it allows small news organizations who cannot afford to have staff photographers, or to hire freelancers, to compete with the major news distributors, at least online. But what about their journalistic responsibility to consumers?
I don’t need a generic image posted with a story to understand what the story is about. I want to see specifics! When I look up the same story on seven different news sites I don’t want to see the same darn image, or one that looks just like it, everywhere. I want that dog. Those vets. I want multiple different angles of Lady Gaga’s latest fashion feature, not the same two photos recycled and re-posted on every single site. I want real combat images not stock shots from three years ago with soldiers that aren’t even in the service anymore.
I want variety.
We deserve variety because that’s what journalism is about, finding an angle. If the stories must have an angle, the images that go with them must too. If the story has to be up to date, the photos do too. Otherwise there’s no point.