Have you ever watched a reality show where the first season was really good, but by the time the third season rolls around, you have lost interest because everything seems fake? When I think of that question, Cheaters comes to mind. There are many shows on television that are that way, and the audience is no longer entertained when everything seems “staged” or “set-up”. What happens? Viewers change the channel and scan the guide for something else to watch.
This happens in journalism as well. In the book The Elements of Journalism, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel said, “Journalists should not deceive (the viewer).” Al Tompkins wrote on Poynter.org, “Do Not Add,” as one of his standards. Basically, do not put anything in that does not belong. Let’s examine two different magazines and their approaches to photojournalism.
First up, The Weekly World News. Admit it, while waiting in line to pay for your groceries, this magazine grabbed your attention. Whether it was a picture of Bigfoot or George W. Bush shaking hands with an alien, the ridiculous cover always stood out. However, I had never seen anyone taking home a copy. Maybe if Weekly World News put more effort into their effects ( “just photo-shopping” in an alien, the Loch Ness Monster, etc.), then they may have sold more subscriptions. In journalism, you need an image that would be “eye-catching” and appealing, but also accurate. Otherwise, not many people will give you the time of day.
Then, there is Time Magazine. Many times they have played around with special effects to enhance the cover image. The most famous example is the cover where OJ Simpson’s mugshot is darkened and the blood-red letters read, “An American Tragedy”. Magazines need to be careful sometimes when experimenting with effects because in some cases they can manipulate the readers. Sometimes, effects can create a bias. Unlike Weekly World News, Time sells more subscriptions because their stories are true. They say a still image can viscerally communicate emotion.
In my opinion, Times accomplished that with the cover of their issue from April 3, 2006. It was a picture of a polar bear standing on a tiny piece of ice, and the headline reads, “Be worried. Be very worried.” This image represents the goals of photojournalism. The cover tells a story, provides an accurate description, and viscerally communicates emotion by allowing the readers to sense that the polar bear feels stumped and trapped out on the ocean.