Visual Journalism

Last Friday, Mary Knox Merrill presented to our class about visual journalism. Merrill, a former Christian Science Monitor photographer, presented a few projects she did involving visual journalism.

After viewing all three of the projects, I was struck by the power of two of them, but felt that a third would have been just as easily told in a text-based story with photos.

The first, a video story about rape in the Congo and different efforts to prevent the act, had a much greater effect on me than a normal written story would have; it showed real people with very real problems. This eliminated the feeling of distance. It is much easier to ignore an issue if you’re just reading names off of a page, but when there are real people speaking on screen, it’s much harder to ignore. It carves itself into memory, and becomes an issue I’m much less likely to forget.

A second story seemed as though its visual aspect wasn’t as necessary or helpful. In a visual story about water shortage in a village in the Himalayas, Knox used mostly pictures. This, along with the issue being very hard to visualize, made it seem like a weaker story to me. It seemed as though it could have been a text story with a photo slideshow and had the same effect. There is, however, the added convenience in video because video is consumed passively and is therefore more convenient for many news consumers.

The final video story was Knox’s story about a Cyclocross competition in Marblehead, Mass. While it didn’t provoke the same emotional response as the story about rape, it did a great job of showing what this little-known sport was about and how it was performed. This is something that surely would not have been accomplished by a normal newspaper story.

These visual stories taught not only the value of this type of journalism, but also the value of story judgement. As the story about Himalayan water shortage showed, some stories are better accomplished by traditional means, but as the other two stories illustrate, there are some things better covered in this form. Knowing when to use these alternative methods is just as important as knowing how to use them well.


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