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April 17, 2014

The Sound and the Furry: Is This a News Photo?

This photo appeared, #6 out of 45, in the Reuters “photos of the month” slideshow for March. Here’s the caption:

Local women watch armed men, believed to be Russian soldiers, assemble near a Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoe, Ukraine, March 5, 2014.

Our news photo criteria:

• These days, a news photo might just be seen as a photo produced and delivered by a news agency or a photo published in a news format on a news site. Specifically though (because these distinctions have gotten a little blurry), a news photo delivers news content — in contrast to “human interest photos” or photos that primarily operate as “infotainment.”

The concept of human interest transcends both of the definitions stated in Photojournalism and Photo Travel and encompasses many categories of photography. Any image capturing the essence of a time, place, person or culture along with evoking an emotional response (e.g. happiness, excitement, sadness, despair) could be included in the definition of human interest.

What is Human Interest (Photographic Society of America)

Infotainment is “information-based media content or programming that also includes entertainment content in an effort to enhance popularity with audiences and consumers.”

Wikipedia

The Wikipedia “infotainment” entry also distinguishes between “hard” and “soft” news:

The idea of hard news embodies two orthogonal concepts:

Seriousness: Politics, economics, crime, war, and disasters are considered serious topics, as are certain aspects of law, business, science, and technology.

Timeliness: Stories that cover current events—the progress of a war, the results of a vote, the breaking out of a fire, a significant statement, the freeing of a prisoner, an economic report of note.

The logical opposite, soft news is sometimes referred to in a derogatory fashion as infotainment. Defining features catching the most criticism include:

The least serious subjects: Arts and entertainment, sports, lifestyles, “human interest”, and celebrities.

Not timely: There is no precipitating event triggering the story, other than a reporter’s curiosity.

• The information the news photo offers about an event doesn’t feel frivolous or gratuitous. (That doesn’t mean that a photo that’s lighthearted, humorous or sarcastic, even, is off the mark if the news event — Rick Perry’s 2012 Republican presidential campaign, for example — has earned this kind of poking.)

• The tone of the photo is consistent with the seriousness and severity of the news event it’s about.

So I’m wondering, is this a news photo?

Accompanying the question, this video clip from our “Photojournalism in Flux” panel at Photoville ‘13 last September delves into the format and logic of the increasingly common general news photo gallery. A question to keep in mind when you’re watching this: is part of “the problem” with the general news photo gallery the jarring combination of hard news, human interest and infotainment images?

(photo: Thomas Peter/Reuters)

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