Our Vanishing Visual Record

Steve Parker at St. Louis Today, passes on a lament from the recent Society of News Design competition – the loss of emotional images from our newspapers.

The comments lifted from the SND report ring too true:

Amid all our positive observations, we became concerned about the state of photojournalism in the pages we saw. We missed emotional photographs. Glossy magazines and newsprint pages with vast, luxurious expanses of space were largely devoid of powerful photojournalism.

The lack of strong, documentary images puzzled us. We wondered if this has something to do with reduced investment. The industry has lost so many positions for picture editors and others, and yet great photographs can’t be made without time, care and commitment. Perhaps in places where the work is being done, print space to showcase it is no longer available.

Having had the luxury of seeing hundreds of papers in the last few days, we’d like to raise a red flag on this issue. It’s one of print’s great powers to enable users to savor moments captured in the best photos. How can we recapture and deliver this value to readers?

And it’s true – our readers have shied away from coverage of hard things, relevant things, emotional things. They want it quick and easy and happy. And if you don’t do that, they click away.

So what do we do? Well, I still believe we need to tell stories that matter. But we can’t just make pictures of poverty and war and disasters – we need to relate those to our readers, we need to show them that poverty is an issue in India, it’s also an issue in Peoria.

And that it’s an issue they can do something about. Don’t just look at the symptoms in your work. Go beyond the causes, too – go for the cure. Tell THAT story and people will pay attention.

It isn’t easy, but it is relevant and emotional. And that’s how we save storytelling.

Mark E. Johnson

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