Nothing catches the attention of a reader like a visual does. Monica Moses, the Star Tribune’s deputy ME/Visuals and poynter.org faculty member, said that through research “we know that 90 percent of readers enter pages through large photos, artwork, or display type (headlines, promos, etc.).
Not only do visuals bring a reader into the story, but they help the reader better understand the content. “Publications understand that some information is more efficiently and effectively presented through these means [graphics] than by the paragraph,” said James Glen Stovall, author of Journalism: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.
Not only do graphics draw in readers and help them understand the content, but the attention given to graphics is far greater than that of written text. Poynter’s Eyes on the News research said that the chance of someone reading some of the text in a story increases by three times when a visual is included. Headlines are also more likely to be read if a photograph is included. The research also said that size of a picture matters, the bigger it is, the more a reader will read the cutline.
Like all things in journalism, credibility is key. In 2004 USA Weekend printed two racial epithets that were printed in the background text of an illustration. Papers were forced to pull the supplement from their delivery. Anne Van Wagener, of poynter.org, said that “an illustration, or any visual, is no different than a carefully crafted story. The elements of an illustration–line, color, concept, text, and texture–all need editing.”
The importance of visuals in media is becoming more clear as media expands into the digital age. The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” has never been more true.
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