Is Visual Journalism Affecting Traditional News Styles And Conventions

August 13, 2013

Visual Journalism Affecting Traditional NewsIt’s certainly an idea whose time has come, again.

Even as many mainstream journalistic outlets are struggling to stay afloat in the increasingly Digital world, some news sources are taking their cue from the popularity of visual-based websites, graphic novels, social media sites such as Flickr and Instagram, and even video sharing sites in order to provide more visual journalistic content to their readers. Or should we say ‘viewers?’

For anyone who has grown up with the Internet, as well as with the nearly ubiquitous recreational pursuit known as video gaming, it seems like a “natural” evolution – individuals raised on visual information sources are used to and expect to interact with visual information on a daily basis. We of course always have interacted with visual media – from children’s books to traffic signage – but today’s media is more visually based than ever before, requiring more visual journalism in the form of photography, infographics, videos, illustration, etc. Indeed, the title of this blog post is a bit deceptive – it’s not so much that visual journalism is influencing traditional news styles as much as it is that the technological delivery system of the Internet favors visual information for impact and mass audience appeal and understanding. Pictures and photographs can be understood by every demographic group in every country – making distribution more universal than ever before. It thusly only makes sense that as physical newspaper journalism and magazine sales are declining, the Internet alternatives would begin to “adapt” more to the possibilities of the visual-based Web over time.

A recent article in the Huffington Post featured a new iPad tablet magazine called Symbolia, a “graphic novel-style interactive iPad app magazine” that features actual news articles told in the visual narrative format of comic books and graphic novels. As co-founder Joyce Rice explained to the Huffington Post, “Illustrated storytelling is something that deeply resonates with many people. We wanted to create another venue that highlights the powerful, emotive, and thought-provoking stories that can be told through comics journalism…. We have plans to cover a broad range of topics, from science to human interest, field reporting to technology, and beyond! I can’t think of a single story that couldn’t be told through illustrated journalism, so all are welcome.”

So basically what we’re talking about here is a new way of reporting the news, which is also an old way as old as cave drawings and hieroglyphics. And while there are and will be many theories put forth as to why visual information delivery is increasing (globalization and an end of sorts to the “tyranny of the English language, the efficiency and efficacy of images versus words, the greater acceptance of comics art as a legitimate communication form, a need for more diversity and innovation within Communications in the 21st century) today, the bottom line is that boundaries are breaking down between what are considered appropriate deliverables by the “old guard” and what is considered interesting and innovative by the vanguard.

Quoting Rice again, “Comics journalism is a new way for readers to interact with investigative journalism, and it gives the people an opportunity to experience media in a new way. It allows the reader to really access the time, the place, and the people in the story by merging the written and visual aspects. In a time when there is so, so much worthwhile reading material available to people from all over the globe, it’s important for to prioritize visual communication as a partner to written communication. It’s simply more democratic — comics and illustration can bring more people in.”

For this reason if this reason alone, now is a very good time for the pursuit of visual journalism and all the possibilities therein.