Public Editor

Photos, graphics amount to ‘lazy journalism’?

An emailer made an interesting observation, referring to a trend she’s noticed that is demonstrated well by the cover of the Chow Town section in The Star’s print edition today:

In my newspaper, I don’t consider a picture to be worth a thousand words. Small photo illustrations with a story add to the interest, but the half-page illustrations that are becoming common seem to me to be just lazy journalism. This morning’s photo of the bottle of mead went way beyond logic. The stuff sounds good, but I don’t need a poster sized photo to mount on my wall. I don’t buy graphic novels because I enjoy text. I’d appreciate if the Star didn’t seem to be following those novels’ lead.

It’s difficult to make generalizations, because there are obviously too many print papers in the world for any broad statements to hold true across the board. But you don’t have to spend much time looking at the pages that win awards from organizations such as the Society for News Design to see that in general, pages that make bold visual statements tend to dominate within the industry.

I think my emailer hits on a good question. In these days of indisputably shrinking physical editions, should the focus be on trying to increase “news hole” — the real estate set aside for words? I’m pretty sure a lot of newspaper consumers, who tend to be word people, would agree.

The flip side to that argument is that visuals can convey a tremendous amount of information, sometimes far more economically than words. Which would you rather see, for example: Two paragraphs describing a proposed new design for airliner seats, or a clear diagram showing exactly what they would look like?

As The Star’s visual staff works on a redesign set to debut later this year, the question of balance between words and images is one they should weigh. I will share this excellent feedback with the art and design department.