Life was so simple as a press officer back in the olden days if you wanted coverage in a local paper.
You rang them up, organised a time, they’d send a photographer and it would appear in the next edition. Bingo. Job done.
Now the world has changed. Staff photographers are a rarity, papers have become thinner and newspapers have become digital first news brands.
So what do – let’s call them news titles – want now?
To find out I researched 28 weekly and daily regional news titles across the UK from Aberdeen to Belfast and Cardiff to Docklands. I looked at the print edition and what was posted to Facebook on a single day. Overall, there was 1,300 stories in print and 400 on Facebook.
Why? To better understand and to recommend in training what content works. Anyway, I’m fascinated by this stuff.
Here’s a flavour of the research.
So, what visual content do local news titles now favour?
Come with me on a visual journey. I’ve split the findings into weekly titles and daily titles who are using quite different content.
The traditional approach to news pictures
In the days of print, newspapers had their own teams of staff photographers who would cover the patch and produce local images in a house style. At the Express & Star in the Black Country the house style was ruthless. They must be upright, tight and bright. So, happy local faces. Faces so they would buy copies of the newspaper.
Occasionally, there would be syndicated images from PA but submitted pictures hardly ever and never shoots taken by an amateur unless it was a likeness of a loved one collected from a ‘death knock’. These macabre visits would be made by a duty reporter after a murder.
I found an old 2004 copy of the Express & Star and found that 73.8 per cent of shots were news pics and 15.3 per cent were submitted from the PA wire.
It would looklike this…
Fig 1. The Express & Star in August 2004
I was curious to see just how much things have changed.
Now, the repertoire of images used is far wider.
The news pic
This is the classic of the newspaper. There is a full caption from left to right with real people and their names. It is the bread and butter.
The submitted pic
This shot has been taken by a freelance photographer or maybe an amateur with a mobile phone. Or perhaps its an artists’ impression of a new development. Whatever the source, it came from outside the news room.
The library pic
This shot comes from the title’s image library. It is generic. You want a shot of the Town Hall or a firefighter in South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue kit? Here it is. Need a shot of the site of the road where two cars collided? Go to Google Street View and take a credited screengrab.
The stock pic
This comes from a stock picture provider like istock. You want a picture of a football? Or a road closed sign? No problem. Here it is. This is more generic.
The full screen grab
Eddie Shah in 1986 pioneered the use of screen grabbing images from a TV screen to appear in print. Since then they have become a mainstay of news content. Did a guest on a chat show say something outrageous? There’s a screengrab to go with the words.
Internet culture makes it fine to have text on an image or just plain text on an image.
The front page
This curious addition to the visual repertoire feels like a throwback to when front pages were king. Here’s the front. You like it enough to buy it?
What’s your favourite picnic ingredient? What do you think of Harry and Meghan? Do you think Carlisle United will win the play-offs? ULEZ? Tell us in our poll.
The algorithm loves video.
Visual content in weekly titles: in print
Fig 2. Images used by print weekly news titles
Here’s the first big hot take.
Content being used in print now is different to that of 20 years ago.
In print, pictures are dominated by submitted pictures with 80.2 per cent likely being sent into the editorial email. No wonder. Newsrooms have been stripped of photographers who could maybe produce a dozen pictures a day at full capacity.
Library pictures came next on 15.3 per cent. These are the images of the town hall, the library and the beauty spot. They fill space but won’t encourage anyone to buy extra copies of the paper or order a print.
Finally, classic news pics. At 4.3 per cent they have all but died out. These are the images with the a caption with a list of left to right names and likely taken in-house.
Visual content in weekly titles: online
Fig 3. Images used by print weekly news titles
Here’s where it gets fun.
Content online is completely different to the content online from the same title.
Images used on Facebook to drive people towards a click are quite different to the print edition. The rule that may have dictated the size and style of an image have gone out of the window. What has replaced it is an eye catching image rather than an identifiable face.
With newsrooms closing and being hollowed out the speed of getting a library image or stock image overtakes any editorial rule for people. No wonder, as people scroll a colourful image is more powerful.
So, the library picture – at 41.3 per cent – is the most common style of content with weekly titles online. The everyday shot of a landmark or firefighters is what weekly titles are after.
Following this is the submitted image on 29.8 per cent then the stock image on 12.3 per cent. The news pic trails behind on 7.0 per cent.
The screen grab on 3.6 per cent, meme on 2.6 per cent, front page facsimile on 1.8 per cent, poll on 0.8 and video on 0.8 complete the picture.
Visual content in daily titles: in print
Fig 4. Images used by print daily news titles
Library pictures account for almost half of images in print with submitted pics a quarter and news pictures a fifth. There are three times more news pictures in daily titles than in weekly.
This is totally transformed from the newspaper of 20 years ago.
Visual content in daily titles: online
Fig 5. images used by daily news titles online
Library pictures win out for dailies online taking up a third of content posted to Facebook with submitted one in five narrowly beating stock images.
Screen grabs provide a noticeable trend with 8.7 per cent with TV and celebrity dominating these images
Video is more of an imprint on daily titles with 5.8 per cent standard social media video and less than one per cent for Reels and for live video.
Review what you do. If you’re still basing the content you send on how things used to be you’re missing a trick.
Add a picture when you send out words. This could be a stock picture you have permission to use or a library picture that you’ve generated yourself. Just add a picture and send it via a a file transfer link like wetransfer or drop box. The reporter will tell you what format they would most like.
Photo calls are over. News photographers barely exist. Don’t think about booking a photocall with the local title because they’re not there to answer the phone let alone come.
Submitted images are powerful. But this does provide a gap that can be filled with a submitted image. Having a freelance photography budget is a wise idea for news stories you are looking to get covered. The brief needs to be a news pic but also as many library pics as you can get your hands on.
Video. Providing video is also a sensible idea which can help you get coverage and help the reporter to fill space online. The amount of video being used by local titles is surprisingly low given that half of all time spent on Facebook is spent watching.
I looked at a news title’s print edition for a given day and the corresponding Facebook page’s output.
Included in the research are the print and online versions of daily newspapers Belfast Telegraph, Express & Star, Evening Mail, Manchester Evening News, Dorset Echo, Glasgow Herald, Aberdeen Press & Journal, Western Mail, Evening Standard, Newcastle Chronicle, Sunderland Echo, Norwich Evening News, Oxford Mail and Yorkshire Post.
Weekly titles include the print and web versions of The Derbyshire Times, Whitehaven News, Tamworth Herald, New Milton Advertiser & Lymington News, Essex Chronicle, Northumberland Gazette, West Highland Free Press, Milngavie & Bearsdon Herald, Ulster Gazette & Armagh Standard, Brecon & Radnor Express, Kidderminster Shuttle, Knutsford Guardian, Tenbury Wells Advertiser, Docklands & East London Advertiser, Bridlington Free Press and Essex Echo.
Thank you to everyone who has contributed a print edition for the study.
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