Visual Journalism
(This is only a limited discussion of visual journalism with respect to print.)
Newspapers are vying with each other to jump into the bandwagon of visual journalism. The attempt is not only to make the product visually more attractive, but also to reduce the cognitive load of the reader.

One of the reasons cited for this trend is the change in readership habits. People, especially of the younger generation, spend very little time these days reading newspapers. According to surveys conducted in India and abroad, they expend a lot of time watching television and surfing the Internet. A national readership survey (2002) found that an urban reader in India, on an average, spends 32 minutes on newspapers against 100 minutes watching television.

These findings need to be looked at closely. There is little doubt there are many things in modern life that compete for a person's time. So, the time he spends on newspaper has come down. However, the 100 minutes on television is not in direct competition with newspaper or news. Many other activities, like time spend on going to the theaters, would have taken a cut.

Many newspapers in India and abroad have found a solution to the dwindling 'reader interest' on their product. (In India, their circulations have never been dwindling). They include simplification of the language, offering of soft stories and presentation of stories with highlights, infographics and even pinups.

This could turn out to be a vicious circle with the reader looking for lesser and lesser cognitive load on him. The readers, especially the younger ones, may become lazier as information is offered to him in tablet form. Making the reader lazier would be suicidal for the medium in the long run.

MTV generation
However, there is little reason to think that today's reader is lazier than the aristocrats of the past. Nor is there evidence that the MTV generation cares less for good content.

The readership surveys do not look at reader satisfaction. We have seen readers throwing away newspapers saying that there was hardly matter for ten minutes reading in them. This did not mean that there was nothing in the 10 or 12 pages each of those newspapers. Apparently, the reader is not finding material that interests him, or what he thinks he should spent more time on. So, the problem is more with the content rather than design. (Design sometimes creates the impression of plenty or the lack of it). Light material would get thrown away more easily than gripping and serious stories.

This is not to say that one should not try to make the pages more attractive. Initial buying decisions and sustained liking for a newspaper may be decided by lay out and ease of reading (from the typographical point of view). Printing and other production technologies including colour printing have made it possible to make visually appealing pages quicker than before. There is no reason why one should not take advantage of them.

Web vs. Print
However, there is a tendency to adapt design elements from the Web. This needs to be chosen carefully. Compared to computer and television screen, the luminosity of the printed page is very low, especially on newsprint. So, clutter of infographics and images could darken up the page more easily on print than on the screen, especially if the tonal values are high. They can also cause visual overload. (Visual overload happens very often on the Web. This may be one of the reasons, other than slow loading of images, that prompts readers to look for text in preference to images on Web pages.) Images, advertisements and infographics could suppress text.

On the Web, news stories appear in different pages. So, design requirements vary. For example, a photo or graphic with every story, which is desirable on the Web, would not be desirable on the print unless the format is of magazine.

Text is more readable on the print than on the Web. (Readability is lower for the Web as the resolution of the computer screen is low*.) So, print can always accommodate more text without the reader being turned away. News sites would have to depend on infographics more than the printed publications to tell the story, because the screen size is small. Many readers are even reluctant to scroll down. (If we accept the argument that the readers are inherently lazy, the print has an advantage here. However, it is notable that interactivity is described as the great advantage of the new medium.)

Of Visual Journalism:
Visually attractive does not mean that the product would be intellectually attractive. The pages should look inviting. At the same time, the content should be stimulating. If the objective of the newspaper is only to sell, sex and crime on the front page could achieve the objective. Still, there is the question as to how many pin ups one would want to see in the morning (See the related link). However, as everyone knows, stature of a newspaper and lack of higher objectives are mutually exclusive.

It is said about the Web that content is the king. This is all the more true for newspapers where the written content is the King.

Expert-Eyes/April 2005     

Related links:
The Feelgood
Visual Journalism- A guide to new media professionals
The New Old Journalism
National Readership Survey 2005 (PDF)
Indians 'World's biggest readers'.
NOP Survey

* Readability will improve when monitors that could display 300 dots per inch become common. Current resolutions are around 100 dots per inch. A 15-inch monitor set to display 800x600 pixels is having a resolution of 72 dpi. Typical resolutions on Windows computers range from 40 to 95 dpi.

Comments on this article are welcome. They would be published in an appropriate form on this page/ Web site after review.  Post your comments

Comments by Debajyoti, Bangalore, India

On the web space is not an constraint unlike newspapers or magazines. The
online papers should utilise this advantage to provide detailed and
exclusive reports of incidents which newspapers carry rarely. Secondly the
online pages can be made more appealing and colourful with a better layout
to attract readers.

More pictures and catchy headlines can always add more
readers.The web has the added advantage of including news as and when it
comes throughout the day. In future the web can definitely give newspapers
a run for their money as more laptops and computers reach every hand
across the globe.

Debajyoti  Mal <>

Comments by Dr. S. Josh, Department of Virtual Media, Kannur University.

In the cyberworld not content but the medium is made important. Moreover, a
new technology makes an old technology its content. So it is natural that
the techniques of print becomes the content of the Web.

 Dr. S. Josh <>

Comments from Sunil K. Poolani, Publisher and Managing Editor, Frog Books, Mumbai.

Well put, direct to the point and no beating around the bush. I tend to
agree with most of the points.

 Sunil K Poolani <>

Additional Reading: Cautinary tale by Ayaz Amir