Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Random images: Your thoughts?

This image arrived in the email the other day along with a good question (bunch of questions, actually), thanks to Barbara Phillips Long:

Part of the problem with the photo, I realized, is that I wondered who the people in the photo were and whether it was a 'real' photo of something actually taking place, or a posed photo of a doctor and a patient, or a posed photo of people pretending to be a doctor and a patient. About the only thing I could say for certain is that it wasn't two toddlers playing doctor.

I agree, and I also share Barbara's summary conclusion: "I'm just not interested in seeing irrelevant photos any more" (discussed earlier in a slightly different context here). Aside from the confusion, whether momentary or not, about who's who, and the potentially more dangerous confusion about whether any other images you see on a site are real or merely illustrative, there's a mechanical question: Is the image worth the time it takes to load on your tablet or other viewing platform of choice?

With all that said, let's open the floor to discussion: Are we seeing more cases of the stock photo used to illustrate the concrete story? Is there a real difference between "a doctor, like the one shown here" and "an Airbus A320, like the one shown here"? Are people hearing from the traffic-counters if a story isn't illustrated? Is there too much of it, or not enough? (Your Editor does admit to occasional bursts of get-off-my-lawnism.) Is this something audiences expect (or that we expect audiences to expect)? Are news sites assuming that such illustrations make stories better liked or better remembered? Are there other habits like this that might be getting routinized in online news presentation?

Comments and thoughts encouraged. This would be a fun topic to look at empirically.

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Blogger Darla-Jean Weatherford said...

The key word for me here is "irrelevant." I just learned today that some folks younger than me may not recognize what a gnu is, so if someone were killed in a gnu attack, maybe a shot of a gnu would be helpful to readers who don't otherwise know what that means. But I don't see anything in this much of the story that helps me understand how a doctor and patient (real or imaginary) illustrates anything the huge majority of readers couldn't conjure up on their own, and unless the doctor represents some meaningful fragment of "small business," it's even farther off track.

All that said, I think the emphasis has all too often become "gotta have a photo" rather than "could a photo help readers?"

7:54 PM, July 17, 2012  
Blogger P said...

Dr. John Obamacare (right) examines a patient.

8:58 PM, July 17, 2012  
Anonymous LisaMc said...

Two things: 1. We have a "featured story" spot on our homepage that requires a story with art. Usually we have art (or file art), but occasionally there's a good story we'd like to feature that we have to get a generic picture for in order for it to fit the space. It's not ideal, but that's the way our CMS works. 2. Somebody somewhere told us that stories with pictures are much more appealing to "share" on Facebook, etc., so for those stories we want to post, sometimes we add generic art (but if we're busy, we just go without).

9:09 PM, July 17, 2012  
Blogger Rinkly Rimes said...


My latest blog entry (poetry) will give you my point of view.

9:26 PM, July 17, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My suspicion is that the photos help to sell a piece to one particular sort of audience (casual browsers) by indicating the topic being discussed, in the same way that display type would in a real magazine. People expect Web publications to have photos or some other sort of artwork to break up the bricktext. People who arrive at the article in some other way (e.g., social) may not even see the photo and usually already know what the story is about (that's why they clicked on the link), so it's just decoration.

9:51 PM, July 17, 2012  
Blogger Brian B said...

Images do make a web story more readable.

Lisa gets at another reason many news sites use images with every story: Their home pages that feature or tease stories use images to do so. That's the case where I work.

And many sites don't have an army of photographers taking pix to go with every story, so they rely on stock photos or even CC images from sites such as Flickr. It's not ideal, but we haven't had an ideal working environment in many years.

2:00 AM, July 18, 2012  
Anonymous Ed Latham said...

We're told that photos are good for SEO. If you look on Google News mainpage, you'll see one top story, two or thee sublinks, but, sometimes (as today, with the Syria bomb), eight pictures in a rolling carousel, all of which are clickable and which will take the Google searcher to your story.

Also, Google News displays a photo with every story it returns on the search list. That means if you don't put a picture on your story, then Google will find one from another site and do it for you - and that picture will still be clickable. So if the searcher clicks on your headline, well and good: they go to your story. If they click on the picture next to it, though, they'll go to the site that the picture came from, not yours. So you can sometimes 'steal' clicks from people that don't attach art.

12:13 PM, July 18, 2012  

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