Cuts protests: is photojournalism objective?

Posted on March 29, 2011 by

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By JENNY STEVENS

As we said recently on Seeing Stories, photographs make a breaking news story. To feel close to the action, readers and users want to see it. This weekend the front pages of (almost) all the nationals were dominated by coverage of Saturday’s march against the Government’s public spending cuts. But each newspaper’s choice of photojournalism was different – often reflecting the criticism from protest groups that a disproportional amount of coverage was given to a minority of violent protesters.

Although most newspaper websites offered a picture gallery of photographs taken at the protests, and images taken at the march by protesters, campaign groups and journalists were instantly available in Twitter and other social networking sites, the image chosen for the front page of the print edition still makes a powerful impact in the news stands.

We looked at the front page photo chosen for five national newspapers and found that the photos chosen reflected the editorial standpoint of the newspaper just as much as the written word.

Independent on Sunday, 27 March 2011

Independent on Sunday

Powerful image of riot police facing protestors. Although the image initially looks like a negative portrayal of the protestors, a closer look shows it actually gives more of an insight from the protestors’ perspective, perhaps trying to show how intimidating the riot police were.  A clear winner – showing the complex relationship between the protestors and the police.

The Sunday Telegraph, 27 March 2011

The Sunday Telegraph

A group of young men seemingly attacking a police officer under the banner “Britain’s face of hatred”. This is a good action photograph, plenty of context in the background with police and cameras, but it again shows how most of the violence was minority as no other protestors are in sight – just police and other photographers.

Sunday Express, 27 March 2011

Sunday Express

Image of a protester dressed in black letting off a flare. The picture doesn’t really tell us anything about the news story, other than that somebody let off a flare.

Mail on Sunday, 27 March 2011

Mail on Sunday

A group of hooded people attempt to smash a window at the Ritz with a road sign. A good action shot, but it is clear that this is a minority group, as there are no other protestors in sight, so the headline “anarchists hijack TUC cuts march” is disproportionate to the image, as no other TUC protesters were even in sight.

The Observer, 27 Mach 2011

The Observer

Led with an image of the peaceful protestors under the caption “united in anger”. The only shot of colourful and peaceful protestors, and perhaps the most accurately image portrayal of the march in general.

Clearly, the front page photograph has less of an impact now then it ever has because of dwindling circulation figures. Images taken by “citizen journalists” and uploaded instantly onto social networking sites such as Twitter gave instant access to images of breaking news events live from the action, for instance the pictures campaign group UK Uncut uploaded on Twitter from inside Fortnum and Mason.

Judging by the images on the front pages, the rise of citizen photojournalism and picture galleries is a good thing, giving users access to the whole range of images, rather than a select few which have been chosen to reflect editorial lines.

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