Photos beyond borders: Visual presentation of news from a global perspective

Consider a global news story. A straightforward and recent example is the birth of both Prince George and Princess Charlotte in England. These births were front page news across the globe. And photos, like the one below, dominated the news coverage.

royal_baby_ap_605

Photographs have the ability to convey facts and emotion; as such, photographs are effective story-telling devices. In newsrooms, there are numerous considerations that go into the selection and use of news photographs. Some of these considerations include the number of photos to be used, the size and placement of photos, and the content of photos. In addition, there are ethical considerations, such as the manipulation of a photo or the graphic nature of a photo. And these considerations do not have global standards.

Because photography is a visual information source, we do not face a language barrier in interpreting global visual news, as we do with written or spoken news. Certainly, there can be cultural differences in understanding and interpreting a photograph. But you do not need to be able to read or speak a different language to understand the basic premise of a photograph.

As such, studying global news from a visual perspective can be both accessible and informative.

The Newseum website is an excellent reference for the study of the visual presentation of news. On any given day, newseum.com maintains a collection of 500+ front pages from around the globe; they are available in .jpg and .pdf formats. In addition, the Newseum archives front pages on big news dates in recent history. Again, the front page collection is an ideal resource for studying the construction and design of news. Browsing the gallery provides insights into how different news outlets (both foreign and domestic) present the news. This is especially instructive on a big news day.

Key points of discussion that should be considered in a global news photographic analysis include, but are not limited to:

  • News values: role of photos in story-telling
  • Media treatment: number of photos, size, placement, source
  • Photographic aesthetics: distance, angle, lighting, focus o Photographic content: subject, background, symbols
  • Ethical considerations: manipulation, privacy, graphic nature
  • Theoretical considerations: visual agenda setting, visual framing Journalism scholars and educators must emphasize global diversity.

Studying photos across international borders can engage us to think critically about news values and news construction across the globe.

Here’s an example of how four newspapers across the globe visually told the story of the birth of Prince George:

NY_NYT The New York Times, New York, USA
The birth of Prince George is the lead story in the NYT, but it is not the prince himself who is the focus of the photographic coverage. Rather, the focus is on the worldwide attention given to the news story. While the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their new baby command the center of the frame, they are tiny and barely recognizable. Rather it is the crowd of journalists (and their cameras) who commands the viewer’s attention, thus focusing the photographic frame on the worldwide attention to the news story. Moreover, the long shot of the family makes evident the clear separation of them as elites from the viewing public. By focusing on the media attention—and given the long shot—there is no possibility of the audience forming an intimate connection with the new prince.
UK_TG The Guardian, London, England
It is without surprise that the birth of Prince George dominated the British media. The Guardian includes a large, close-up photo of the royal family: the radiant duchess warmly cradles the new prince in her arms, while the tiny fingers and squinting eyes of the newest heir to the British line can just be seen. The duke appears more reserved. The photo is an intimate portrait of a new family. The tight crop makes one forget—even if just for a moment—that this baby represents the most anticipated birth in the history of the world. There are no cameras. There is no fanfare. There are no crowds. There is no formality. Kate is a proud and beaming mother. William is a nervous and watchful father. The Guardian presents an intimate photograph of the royal family, perhaps as further confirmation of the duke and duchess as modern royals.
COL_EU El Universal, published in Cartagena, Colombia El Universal, Cartagena, Colombia
While El Universal includes a front page story on the birth of the prince, the story is not treated as the lead. It is below the fold and only includes a photo and caption. The story is also largely overshadowed by the flamboyant and provocative lead photo. But the new prince is there, and the included photo—an intimate close-up of his tiny face barely evident from behind his blanket—does command the viewer’s attention and affection. And while the new prince is the dominant focal point of the photo, his father—seen in profile just above him—also grabs the spotlight. But the photo is unique from an aesthetic perspective in that the duke is actually a bit blurry. But the visual frame is clear: the world’s attention is on the new prince.
TAIW_UEN United Evening News, published in Taipei, Taiwan United Evening News, Taipei, Taiwan
The United Evening News presents a playful and affectionate visual story of the birth of Prince George. The front page story includes two photos: an extreme close-up of Prince George’s tiny face and a full shot of the royal family. The photo of the royal family is traditional: two proud parents presenting their new baby. The duchess is holding the baby with one hand, her other hand raised in a friendly greeting. The duke is dignified yet comfortable, with his shirt sleeves rolled up. While the photo is traditional and was used in many news outlets across the globe, its news treatment is unique. The photo is used in a heart-shaped cutout with a white frame, resting on a red background. The visual framing of the story is affectionate and fun.

Newspaper front page images credit: http://www.newseum.org/todaysfrontpages/?tfp_display=archive-date&tfp_archive_id=072313

Header image credit: Associated Press photo via http://www.politico.com/story/2013/10/prince-george-royal-baby-christening-godparents-98726.html

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