Thursday, April 20, 2017

Slouching toward visual journalism

If you got as far with Thursday's Freep as the jump shown here, you probably knew you were still in a story about refinancing student loans. You might nonetheless have wondered what the huddled masses in the photo had to do with a caption like "Lenders are looking at paychecks and degrees -- not for college dropouts and others struggling to make payments."

The photo appears to be cropped from an AP shot of Feb, 1, appearing at stltoday on March 14 with the caption "In this Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, file photo, Brooklyn College students walk between classes on campus in New York." Apparently, then, at least they're students; there's no indication whether any of them are carrying student loan debt,* or how much, though the image was used there and elsewhere to illustrate an AP story about student loan debt. It's also shown up at McClatchy, repurposed to illustrate coverage of New York's plan for tuition:
Well, at least Brooklyn's in New York. Hard to see a similar connection between a nearly three-month-old file photo and a large chunk of visual real estate in the healthier of the two Detroit papers, particularly when there's no indication of why we're seeing it.

I wouldn't cast this as fake news -- as photos tend to be, it's evidently true about something -- but it does make a lot of assumptions about the audience's interest in guessing games. If the press's crying need is to demonstrate its relevance, someone seems to have made a singularly dumb choice in illustrations here.

* If they had been, the AP caption would no doubt have read "Students carry loan debt as they walk between classes."

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