Memorable images offer maximum impact for readers

By Kathleen Coleman

S-R Media

Spokane, Washington, USA


I see my Mother’s signature scent (Tresor by Lancome) on Zulily and instantly memories come flooding back: Her delight at discovering the fragrance, and the extravagance of the beautifully wrapped enormous gift set she received on Mothers Day many years ago.

The way she enjoyed telling people who asked that “her daughter had introduced her” to this lovely perfume, and “would they like a spritz” to try it too?

Companies with things to sell (like Zulily, with its delicious daily e-mail and clickable themes such as “our most-loved scents”) instinctively understand the power of visuals. Click on the photo of your favorite scent and you are taken to … more photos.

Companies like Zulily have embraced imagery to help sell products.
Companies like Zulily have embraced imagery to help sell products.

Your dreamy shopping experience, of course, ends with an ask from Zulily. After such a pleasant journey, well, of course it’s easy to say “yes, add this item to the virtual shopping basket.”

Recipe sites such as Yummly also got on board with using pictures. Tantalising on-screen quadrants are filled with color close-ups of dishes like grilled shrimp tacos with fresh peach salsa from What Dress Code, easy peach limeade from Big Girls Small Kitchen, and smoked paprika cauliflower steaks from College Cooking.

Visually stimulating content, such as recipes, make good use of imagery in order to entice reader action.
Visually stimulating content, such as recipes, make good use of imagery in order to entice reader action.

Click on the photo of the scrumptious shrimp-stuffed tacos and you are taken to ... more photos, of the ingredients neatly arranged in a clean and shiny grocery shopping cart, of the ingredients ready to be assembled on a modern white marble countertop, of the final dish atop the middle of a thoughtfully dressed red tablecloth-covered picnic table. And it’s poolside, of course.

Smart newspapers are re-evaluating the value of visuals, with large photo displays on front pages and section fronts that leave no doubt for readers that this newsprint depicts where they live. They are featuring large-format galleries of photos on their digital platforms. They are making sure their apps are incredibly visual, including photos with every item to keep readers scrolling and engaged.

Of course, these are not only feature photos. News photos have a power like none other to grab readers by the heart and dare them to look away. Most of us can recall photos from our years in the business, or simply as readers — photos that have made us stop and gasp.

Striking images, like this one of Father Mychal Judge, stick with readers.
Striking images, like this one of Father Mychal Judge, stick with readers.

For me, there are many such images. Among them? Reuters photographer Shannon Stapleton’s iconic shot of firefighters and a bystander carrying the lifeless body of Father Mychal Judge out of the rubble on September 11 (Judge was crushed by falling concrete as he administered last rites to a fallen firefighter on the scene in the World Trade Center North Tower lobby).

Emotional responses to imagery keep them top of mind for readers.
Emotional responses to imagery keep them top of mind for readers.

Another life-changing and world-altering photo favorite of mine? President Barack Obama and wife Michelle Obama during his inauguration at the start of his first term.

Iconic imagery offers brand equity that words are unable to produce.
Iconic imagery offers brand equity that words are unable to produce.

And, locally, The Spokesman-Review’s own very talented photojournalist Colin Mulvany snapped Master Sergeant Jason Young and his son, Cooper, placing American flags near gravestones of U.S. military veterans in Spokane.

Visceral. Iconic. Moving. Memorable. The kind of brand equity you can’t buy.

Images — and graphic storytelling — help ensure that your news-gathering work delivers the maximum journalistic gift to readers.

There are still those who will clip news stories and photos out of our print sections for safekeeping. Do not underestimate or undervalue these customers; many of them are your most loyal.

There are those who will click to buy journalistic photos or full pages featuring stories they love.

Then there is social media, which should be one of your organisation’s fitness tests.

A May 2016 updated column by Zach Kitschke, head of communications at Canva, notes that “over 1.8 billion people now have active social media accounts,” more than 29% of the globe’s population. In the United States, it’s 67% of the U.S. population, he writes.

Back to the lovely shrimp tacos and the peach-colored Tresor fragrance bottles: Kitschke’s research asserts that while people are snapping and sharing pictures of their birthday cakes or worshipful photos of Olympic swimmers’ and divers’ physiques, they are also using their feeds to feed their news habits.

And interestingly, it’s one of newspapers’ core audiences (55- to 64-year-olds) that is Twitter’s fastest growing demographic. According to Kitschke, it’s grown 79% since 2012.

Now more than ever, it’s time for those in our business to get excited about visuals. Not only digital displays, but print too. But, on the digital front, it’s especially exciting and opens doors to layers and layers of news to make our readers unbelievably well-informed.

Ken Doctor, in a fantastic 7 March 2016 Newsonomics piece made the case for layered digital — and visual — storytelling such as we’ve never seen.

Doctor writes:

“For the first time, I see a newspaper-created product that seems utterly comfortable with the digital medium. It’s casual yet serious, with the hardest news of the day sidling up to winning features, commentary making an appearance where it makes sense, and visuals of every variety — maps, graphics, photos, and illustrations — sized appropriately for a small screen. It’s information-dense, but not leaden. In a scan or a scroll of the moment’s news, readers can get a broad sense of what … indeed is happening. We also feel something we rarely have felt with digital newspaper products: playfulness.

“Obviously, it’s different,” said Steve Duenes, the Times associate managing editor for graphics. “I mean [the print] Page One is [the important news of] the day, but this is … the Page One of the moment, in a way. For example, if you were following the coverage of the Paris attacks, you could see the scale of the story grow. You could see the different strands of the story that were getting covered and their presentations sort of settled into a logic for how we wanted to communicate that story.” Page One is a tough metaphor, but Duenes, (a) 17-year Times veteran, made the association tangible. Speaking of the coverage of those attacks, he says, “We were able to introduce a hierarchy typographically, and then package parts of stories together with the team, for the phone. I think someone in the newsroom made a comparison to Page One.”

Now, dependably, topping the Times page is the Your Morning Briefing or Your Evening Briefing, doing in 10 or so points what Page One could never do. And tying it together is typography, too often the forgotten stepchild of our digital times. On the smartphone, the Times’ typography is elegant and used to signal differing kinds of content. For example, a bolder sans serif face tells you in an instant that a Sunday Magazine story is being released midweek.”

We live in uncharted territory and hold the awesome responsibility of informing, entertaining, and helping communities see themselves as they are — and also of helping them to be the best communities they can be.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. What an awesome privilege to provide both words and pictures to citizens desperate for a roadmap they know they can trust.

About Kathleen Coleman

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