May Bekaert and Rozane De Cock presented their work on the effects of news photo graphicness at the Etmaal conference for Communication Sciences in Ghent in February 2018. The session on Images, audiences and the suffering other was chaired by BCJS colleague Hedwig de Smaele.
Bekaert and De Cock define news graphicness as : “a detailed visual representation of a striking, touching and compelling event focusing both on physical and emotional pain. This imaging elicits negative emotions as feelings of disturbance, disgust, unpleasantness, sadness and horror.”
Previous longitudinal research has shown that photographs play an increasingly prevalent role in as well Flemish as Dutch newspapers (De Cock, 2007; Hauttekeete, 2005; Schaap & Pleijter, 2012). More and bigger pictures are included as time evolves while the textual contribution is shrinking, leading to photo dominance (Hauttekeete, 2005; MacArthur, 1992).
Media market logic, technological changes and fierce competition have their part in explaining this visual evolution (Vettehen, Nuijten & Beentjes, 2005). Especially sensational and thus graphic pictures are fit for attracting readership (Goldstein, 2012). Research by Garcia and Stark (1991) already demonstrated that pictures and graphics serve as main entry points to draw readers into news stories. Following eye-tracking studies have confirmed that pictures grab readers’ attention while they are scanning pages and screens (Brantner, Lobinger & Wetzstein, 2011; Holsanova, Holmqvist & Rahm, 2006, Leckner, 2012). Studying this growing importance of visuals becomes especially relevant in the case of explicit and vivid images, often referred to as graphicness.