Why the right image is more important than ever to regional journalism … thanks to Facebook

Last week, Facebook announced a new change to the way it will treat posts to Facebook pages. Based on its research of millions of users, it’s discovered that people are more likely to respond to text updates from their friends, but are less likely to respond to text-only updates from pages they’ve chosen to follow.

For journalists who monitor what works and what doesn’t on social media, this will hardly be news – it’s all about capturing the attention of someone as they skim through their Facebook newsfeed, hopefully enough to they’ll click a link, or comment, which in turn increases the chance of it appearing in other peoples’ newsfeeds more prominently too.

The fact that Facebook is responding to that user behaviour is very important though – and is another example of why photography is so important to online journalism.

The old saying goes that ‘a picture is worth 1,000 words.’ It’s a phrase attributed to Napoleon, although his exact phrase is believed to have been “Un bon croquis vaut mieux qu’un long discours,” or “A good sketch is better than a long speech.” I imagine that phrase has been abused by many a Parliamentary journalist over the years. Anyway, according to Wikipedia, the phrase was first applied in the journalistic sense back in 1911. 

Either way, over 100 years on, here’s proof of just how an image in Facebook from a news site can stop you in your tracks:



It’s from the Lancashire Telegraph, my local daily newspaper, and is based on their front page from December 31. Enough to beat New Year’s Honours off the front, I think we’d all agree!

It’s quite a remarkable story – a chap who was grateful to a charity who had helped his ill baby decided, while in the pub, to jump off a nearby bridge into a canal. The Telegraph carefully puts speechmarks around the word ‘drunk’. He hit the towpath, not the canal, and was in a very bad way in hospital.

But remarkable stories don’t count for anything on Facebook (especially if you don’t include a bit about the story at the top, as is the case here). Remarkable images do.

I think it’s safe to say it’s a UGC image, and it’s one I would imagine would make most picture desks or web editors pause for breathe and maybe advice when deciding whether to use it.

The debate on the link is fascinating – a mix of people mocking the injured man, followed by his friends calling for sympathy and in some cases warning of the consequences of mocking the victim, and, in a couple of cases, criticism of the Lancashire Telegraph for publishing the story and picture.

This post isn’t about the rights and wrongs of publishing the image (I’d have used it if I’d been in charge that day). It’s about the impact a strong image can make. Thanks to Facebook, photography is at least as important to newsrooms in the digital age as it ever was in print.



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